Tags: Carla Milarch, Monika Essen, Naz Edwards, Phil Powers, Phil Simmons, R. MacKenzie Lewis, Scott Crownover, The Drowsy Chaperone
Performance Network in Ann Arbor is currently presenting the first professional Michigan production of The Drowsy Chaperone, and it is high on fun, sparse on tickets (it’s been extended to January 2nd) and a good musical in residence for the holidays. The more you know about musical theater, the more you will love the extraordinary book of the show. There is nothing particularly offensive for the young ones, but I would leave the pre-teens and younger at home. There are entire websites devoted to discussing the insider theater jokes and veiled references in the show.
First, let me say that it is difficult to review a regional production of a show that I saw on Broadway twice and whose professional Broadway tour passed through within the past year, using the original Broadway sets and costumes, and featuring what was arguably the Best Performance by a male actor in any tour anywhere during the past year (Craig Treubert as Man in Chair). See my review of that tour here:
That being said, I found myself laughing and enjoying the entire production at the Performance Network. Carla Milarch’s direction is fast and breezy, and a bit over the top as the show presents it’s “musical within a comedy”. This cast sells the production well — Naz Edwards should be declared a national treasure, and she does a wonderful job in the role of the Chaperone. Another superior performance is turned in by Scott Crownover as lothario Adolpho. He steals every scene that he is in (by design), and when he and Naz are on stage together, theater magic takes place.
Phil Powers is strong in the role of Man in Chair and the rest of the cast is very good. To be sure, there is some unevenness, but the energy is palpable. The show is nicely accompanied by a four-piece ensemble that sounds larger than it is, and R. MacKenize Lewis has done a terrific job with the musical direction throughout — the diction and sound are very good. What a joy to hear every word of the deliciously funny book and lyrics.
Phil Simmons choreography is fine though a bit cramped in the PerfNet space. But he makes good use of the entire set, and what a set it is — Monika Essen has created another fine set that makes the stage look larger than it really is, and which has some nice touches, including a staircase that comes and goes, and rotating panel walls that change according to scene. It looks great. It’s all well-lit by Justin Lang and well costumed by Suzanne Young. You will be hard-pressed to find a better looking show this holiday season.
The sound of the taps in the dance number by Matt Anderson (George) and Brian Thibault (Robert) gets muffled on the non-resonant stage floor, but it’s a fine number overall and something PerfNet audiences have not seen in any of their musicals. Plus, I am partial to tap dancing. A later novelty number on roller skates does not work as well in the cramped space. Neither does the ending, since without flyspace it’s difficult to make anything magical of the airplane sequence at the end of the show (although PerfNet’s is clever and looks great). It leaves Man in Chair firmly earthbound at the end of the show instead of lifting off with the rest of the cast. A minor quibble in an otherwise well done technical production.
Once again, Performance Network presents a well-crafted and performed professional musical theater production that they should be proud of.
The Drowsy Chaperone continues at Performance Network Theater through January 2nd. Tickets are available at performancenetwork.org or by phone at 734-663-0681.