The Drowsy Chaperone (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
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Stage musicals of the 1920s have been the subject of affectionate satire in more recent stage musicals at least since 1954, when The Boy Friend opened in London and New York. So, the idea behind The Drowsy Chaperone isn't exactly new. The only aspect of the idea that is new is the framing device. The curtain goes up on the present-day New York studio apartment of a middle-aged theater buff who sits in a chair downstage right and explains to the audience that, when he is blue, he likes to play his favorite Broadway cast albums. He then selects from his collection a double-LP set of that 1928 hit The Drowsy Chaperone and puts the first disc on his turntable. (Of course, single, much less double LPs hadn't been invented yet in 1928, and record companies didn't record Broadway cast albums in those days, either, but if you start counting the anachronisms involved with this project at the outset, you're not going to have any fun — unless you like to count anachronisms, of course.) Magically, the show comes to life right there in his apartment, while he continues to sit in his chair (he is listed in the credits as Man in Chair) and offer a running commentary that includes annotations about the fictional actors playing the characters and his likes and dislikes among the songs and scenes. Such a structure robs the poor critic of much of a function; how can one note that the lyrics to "Bride's Lament" aren't very good when Man in Chair has already instructed listeners to disregard them? Indeed, what point is there in saying that all the songs are just second-rate pastiches of '20s styles when their second-rate nature is fully intended as a source of humor? Broadway never seems to run out of excuses to get dancers into tap shoes and singers into holding long notes, even when those excuses involve making fun of the process itself; not surprisingly, The Drowsy Chaperone nearly swept the Tony Awards after opening on May 1, 2006, though it did lose out on the Best Musical award to Jersey Boys.
The original Broadway cast album (which, of course, replicates certain aspects of the central conceit, such as a reproduction of the supposed album cover of the "real" album in the CD booklet) works largely because of the performances. Co-librettist Bob Martin as Man in Chair has just the right nerdy appeal without going overboard into obnoxiousness, and the singers overplay to perfection. Sutton Foster, who has the female lead, is a past master at this kind of thing, having starred previously in the essentially similar Thoroughly Modern Millie, and she makes the best of her big production number, "Show Off" (even though more than half of its effect is lost on those who can only hear it). That sets the tone for such over the top performances as Danny Burstein's Latin lover proclaiming, "I Am Aldolpho" and Beth Leavel (the drowsy chaperone herself) rattling the rafters on "As We Stumble Along." They help make The Drowsy Chaperone what it is, a good old-fashioned Broadway musical, with footnotes.
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