review by Janet I. Martineau
If ever, IF EVER, IF EVER a musical theater role was tailor made for Leeds Bird, it is as the Man in Chair (the narrator) of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” playing through Sunday at the Bay City Players.
And the long-time Bay City actor/director, who is a musical theater devotee and has even written co-written couple of them, milks it for every single movement and line inflection in a performance for the record books in any theater, not just community theater.
But he has company in this production -- and lots of it.
Michael Wisniewski directs a dream team to near perfection -- from the cast to the choreographer to the costumers to the orchestra. This is a “don’t miss” show. The cast is an assemble of over-the-top characters underplayed beautifully. The dance routines are exciting -- especially a tap routine by two men that ends up with one on roller skates and blindfolded. And the colorful period costuming....well it must have tapped the budget for the next decade.
Now, how to explain “Chaperone” since it is fairly new. In it a depressed curmudgeon (Bird) clad in a bathrobe grumps to the audience about how musical theater ain’t what it used to be. In the process he hauls out a 33 rpm record (remember those) of a vintage and favorite show (“The Drowsy Chaperone,” from 1928), hugs it fondly, remarks how it is a two-record issue....and then proceeds to put it on his record player for us to hear.
And as it plays the show comes to life on the stage -- with Bird’s narrator keeping up a constant HILARIOUSLY droll commentary. He is a critic, a gossip, an historian all rolled into one -- passing judgement on a bad routine and an even worse song, and best of all informing dishing the dirt on the show’s actors as well as what happened to some of them in their later years. A flick of the wrist, a darting of the eyes, an inflection in the voice, a shifting of the body -- Bird reels us in from the get go.
Written by a quartet of folks (two on the music and lyrics and two on the script), it helps that “The Drowsy Chaperone” is one of the most fun musical theater scripts in years -- word play, sight gags, nutty characters, a crafty melding of contemporary life and the 1920s, and a warm-hearted spoofing of musical theater then and now.
SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT...Keep in mind, Man in Chair is playing his 33 album for us. So, for those who remember 33 records, what do you think occurs twice? Once when just two people are on stage in a scene but the second time during a full-blown production number? THE RECORD GETS STUCK. I damn near had to leave, I got such a case of the giggles watching the actors repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat their words and movements.
We won’t spoil the other brilliances in the show but you can anticipate another A1 one when Man in the Chair, who hate intermissions so we don’t get one, goes off stage to take a pee and then returns.....and when the two pastry chefs (who are really gangsters) engage in some old groaners word play.
The 21-member cast is so comfortable in its acting, singing and dancing that the show becomes magically real.
Director Wisniewski is graced with an abundance of top-notch singing voices and tap dancer supremes in David Bowden and Trevor Keyes. And while we cannot possibly name every cast member, we loved in particular the acting chops of Tezra Armstrong as the boozy title character, Dale Bills as the Latin lover Aldolpho (cliches abound and
this show is NOT politically correct, praise be), Samantha Corrion on the tottery Mrs, Tottendale, Amanda Glashauser at the dim-witted Kitty and Steve Moelter as the long-suffering Underling.
Oh gosh, there are so many other sight gags we’d like to share, witty lines, cool costume gimmicks, an airplane scene, references to other musicals....but you need to discover them for yourself.
It has been a marvelous community theater season in Saginaw, Midland and Bay City, and to it “The Drowsy Chaperone” soars.