AISLE SAY New York
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
(Bob Saget and the New Cast,
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Marquis Theatre / 1545 Broadway between 45th and 46th Street
Reviewed by David Spencer
A bit odd to have caught the very last performance of The Drowsy Chaperone prior to the stagehand union strike which, at this writing, is less than a day old, but has nonetheless paralyzed Broadway, shutting down all but a few shows (those exceptions being in theatres not owned by the Shuberts, Nederlanders or Jujamcyns). Odd because, in what gave every appearance of a successful bid to get the show past an interlude of undeservedly fallen-off ticket sales, the producers have engaged Bob Saget to take over the role of "Man in Chair"—first assayed by the show's co-librettist Bob Martin—and guide us, as only a reclusive musical theatre obsessive can, through this confectionary 1928 musical (that never really existed, but should have, and now does).
(For those who don't know the basics of this wonderfully inspired entertainment, click here for the opening week review, and then click back to continue reading. For those who do, read on, because the question everybody's asking, how is he?, is answered below.)
It would be a shame if the strike neutralizes the casting coup, because Mr. Saget, a virtuoso standup comic, an able light comedy player (as he proved for years on the 3-camera sitcom Full House), and also a seasoned TV host (America's Funniest Home Videos), has all the requisite chops to fill the bill. His Man in Chair is less fussy than that of Bob Martin (or his arguably most famous successor, John Glover), because that isn't quite his natural persona, so what emerges here is a character who's a little more bookish (even bespectacled to boot), a little more beat up by life, clinging to musicals as the one salvation of his existence. If all that sounds too serious, bear in mind it's but a subtextual color; Saget is too stand-up savvy to blow the jokes; and he gets a few nice awwwws of sympathy too.
Other replacements? Mara Davi is keeping leading lady Janet van der Graaff in spectacularly limber and fetching fettle, the number in which she doesn't wanna "Show Off" (but does) having lost nothing in the passing of the torch. As the desperate producer Feldzeig, Gerry Vicchi, older, shorter, balder and broader of delivery than predecessor Lenny Wolpe, favors explosive exasperation in a vaudeville mode; it gets the job done. As the leading man's best pal, Patrick Wetzel, never seen by me before, is an amiable surprise, making the role of tap-dancing wedding facilitator his own. As the aging character actress playing Mrs. Tottendale, Jo Anne Worley is perhaps the biggest departure, in that she has not fitted herself into the role's comic archetype, so much as the creative team has allowed the archetype to fit around her own distinctive persona—hence, rather than the soft, sweet ditziness of predecessor Georgia Engel, we get the raucous goofiness that has been Ms. Worley's trademark since Laugh-In. But this is entirely, um, fitting, as a celebration of extravagant performance personae seems built in.
All the others are holding the fort as well as ever—Beth Leavel and Danny Burstein even earning entrance applause from repeat fans—and in general The Drowsy Chaperone is among the best-maintained shows I've ever seen. That one of the show's conceits is the recreation of an iconic, live recording has to feed into this: the show can't work unless everybody crackles with opening night energy. And you know what? 637 performances in...they still do.
Here's hoping they get to 638...and well beyond...