The evening begins in total darkness. After a few seconds, we hear a plaintive voice: "I hate theater."
How could I not love The Drowsy Chaperone?
Now playing at McKeesport Little Theater, Chaperone is one in the recent spate of meta-musicals — shows about themselves (i.e. Urinetown, Bat Boy, [title of show]) — and it might be the most meta of them all.
That lonely voice we heard belongs to Man in Chair, a recluse blocking out the world by playing his cast recordings so often they become his world. (Hmmm ... maybe another reason I love it.)
Tonight he's listening to The Drowsy Chaperone, a "forgotten" 1920s musical actually created by book writers Bob Martin and Don McKellar and composer/lyricists Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. As Man in Chair spins the record on his hi-fi, the show comes to life in his living room, and he provides a running narration on the show, its by-gone actors and musical theater itself.
This narration serves two functions: It's really the "point" of Chaperone. Though the corny and lightweight "Chaperone" — a farcical romantic comedy about a woman renouncing her Broadway career to marry the man she loves — is pleasant enough, it could never sustain a whole evening. The narration is also wall-to-wall jokes. Like Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell, every line Man in Chair has is screamingly funny. (Not surprising, since Martin and McKellar are Canadian superstars responsible for Twitch City, 22 Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin and Slings and Arrows.)
McKeesport Little Theater and director Dorothy Fallows don't really possess the vast talent and technical capabilities needed for this show ... something they should have considered before selecting it. On the other hand, I wouldn't have had the chance to spend the night laughing my silly head off.
Cory McCaffery Sigler imbues Man in Chair with the perfect mixture of apologetic affability and trenchant bitchiness; that he struggled somewhat with the enormous amount of dialogue is, perhaps, understandable. TJ Firneno displays great skill dancing and singing, and Elizabeth Pegg gets to unfurl a terrific set of pipes playing Janet.
Mark A. Calla, Heather Atkinson and Tim Tolbert provide solid comedic backup, and though Mary Ann Wolfe-Barrington starts slow as the title character, she grows nicely in the part.