‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ at Sonoma Arts Live – An Artful Farce of Creative Musical Memory

This wonderful and amazing and fantastical musical is a magical mixture of music and dance and song taken from a fictitious 1928 musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone.”  To be truthful, it’s a fictitious farce so real we knew we had heard of it before, but had forgotten the details.  It’s a story within a story that places us in the heart of a delicious whimsical reality from the moment the play starts rolling.

The musical is written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar.  The music and lyrics are by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.  It first appeared on Broadway in 2006, winning five Tony Awards and many more from other companies.  Other performances followed Broadway in Los Angeles, New York, London, Australia and Japan. The story begins with a man in a chair, waxing poetic about musical theatre in general, and one show in particular: “The Drowsy Chaperone.”  That’s the first story. 

The second story is the one he tells when he plays the records from the rare album of the 1928 musical.  The scratches catch our ear as the vintage record starts playing.  The lights come up and Mrs. Tottendale (played delightfully by Kim Williams) appears, followed by her servant named Underling (played respectfully by Sean O’Brien). It’s a wedding party with all manner of employees filling the stage with colorful music and dance.

Passions run wild in the progression of this fantasy, and Tim Setzer (plying the Man in Chair) narrates and actually joins the fun along the way. O’Brien (Underling) charms the silk stockings off of Williams (Mrs. Tottendale) in their roles. 

The overall fantasy is a wedding party, so we need a groom, Robert Martin (played innocently by Stephen Kanaski) and a bride, Janet Van De Graff (played dramatically by Maeve Smith).  They have their ups and downs, but manage to stay the course eventually.  The Chaperone (played a little intoxicatedly by Daniela Innocenti Beem) is hired to keep the bride and groom apart until they are united.  Beem does the job with attitude and flair, but seeks her own entertainment along the way.  Adolpho (played leeringly by Andrew Smith) takes some risky chances with our Chaperone to side track the wedding at hand; he fails, but is anything but sorry in the end. The final member of the wedding party is George (played helpfully by Jonathen Blue), Robert’s best man.

Feldstein (aka Feldzieg, played productively by Pat Barr) is Janet’s producer who wants Janet to not get married and to stay in his follies.  His starlet wannabe, Kitty (played ever so sycophantly by Emily Owen Evans) can’t wait for the marriage to take place so she gets into Feldstein’s show.  Two gangsters (played menacingly by Rick Love and Kaikane Lavilla) come along at the behest of Feldstein to squelch the wedding.  Trix (the down-to-earth pilot played by Julie Ekoue-Totou) comes in at the end to save the day. 

Everyone plays well with others in this complex stage fantasy. 

Let me stop the review here.  Legend has it that the play evolved out of a very explicit stag party at the Bob Martin residence.  The Broadway version had to be cleaned up for public consumption, with the music retaining many of the adult innuendos.  Now let’s continue with the review.

Director Michael Ross has made the most of this small theatre to focus on the magic here.  He has set up the staging with a stage god (Man in Chair) controlling the action on stage.  This gimmick works.  We get it.  The man in a chair stops the show often to give some brilliant comments on the original actors from 1928, with their names, their histories and relationships in their fictitious lives back when.  The farce becomes a thing in time and we roll back our clocks to the 1920’s to take it all in.

The band pit is in the back of the stage, just outside the back window.  We can see the band occasionally when we get actors entering through the back double doors.  The music is pure 1920’s to match the period.  Music Director Sherrill Peterson keeps the cast moving and singing with new, catchy musical numbers from the 1920’s.  The band does a great job with hits such as “Cold Feets,” “Accident Waiting to Happen,” that wonderful “As We stumble Along” and the ever favorite “Love Is Always Lovely in the End.”

Costumer Rebecca Valentino has done an amazing job with these 1920’s costumes.  Eighteen people in the cast makes for a very busy costumer, and Valentino has created a 1920’s wedding party with all the flapper and intricate designs necessary for a good fantasy.  The Man in Chair narrates the juicy details of the play, but the action stays rooted behind the fourth wall, as fantasies need to do to be effective. There’s never a dull moment on stage with the cast and music challenging each other at every turn.

Choreographer Liz keeps everyone on their toes in the dance numbers, from tap to ballroom to the Charleston done in the elegant dress of the 1920’s.  The play is alive is movement and color. 

Harrah to Sonoma Arts Live for doing this production.  There is a lot of theatre art presented in a fun and easy way.  The 1920’s and gossip of the day (albeit fake) returns to leave us humming the tunes as we leave the wedding.  We sip our champagne as we board the plane for Rio with very good company.

Sonoma Arts Live cast and crew and house are fully vaccinated for COVID-19; masks are required for all audience. 

“The Drowsy Chaperone” continues at Sonoma Arts Live at 276 E. Napa St, Sonoma, through July 31, 2022.

For further information and reservations: http://www.sonomaartslive.org/     

Rating: ****

“The Drowsy Chaparone,” by Steve Martin & Edie Brickell, produced by Sonoma Arts Live.  Director: Michael Ross, Music Director: Sherrill Peterson, Choreographer: Liz Andrews, Set Designer: Brindle Brundage, Light Designer: April George, Sound Design: Tom Luekens, Costume Designer: Rebecca Valentino, Stage Manager: David Shirk.

Cast: Daniela Innocenti Beem as Chaperone, Maeve Smith as Janet Van De Graff, Andrew Smith as Adolpho, Tim Setzer as Man in Chair, Emily Owen Evans as Kitty, Sean O’Brien as Underlingh, Kim Williams as Mrs. Tottendale, Pat Barr as Felzeig, Julie Ekoue-Totou as Trix, Owen Hardisty as Superintendent, Rick Love as Gangster #1, Kaikane Lavilla as Gangster #2, Stephen Kanaski as Robert Martin, Jonathan Blue as George, Emma Sutherland as Ensemble, Madison Lewis as Ensemble, Chelsea Smith as Ensemble, Tyler Ono as Ensemble. The Band: Sherrill Peterson on Keyboard, Scott Rosen on Bass, Steve Cohen on Drums, Brendan Buss on Reeds, Mario Aparacio on Percussion, David Lindgren, Mark Nemoyten on Trumpet, Doug Bates, Joseph Pandolfo, Gary Miller on Trombone.


Author: Gary Gonser

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