Our Gang Players Performing ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’

Hilarious Tony-Winning Spoof of a 1920s Musical
By RICK MELLERUP | Oct 10, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The Our Gang Players are performing “The Drowsy Chaperone” at the Bengal Auditorium of the Barnegat High School this Friday and Saturday, Oct. 13 and 14, at 7 p.m. and this Sunday, Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for students and seniors and $10 for children 12 years of age and younger. They may be purchased online at ourgang.org, by phone at 609-597-0553, or at the door.

“The Drowsy Chaperone,” with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, is often described as a spoof of musicals from the 1920s and ’30s. The problem is that there aren’t too many theater fans left who remember the Broadway of the Roaring ’20s and the Great Depression.

One show of the era, though, is still commonly produced, Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” which originally hit Broadway in 1934. It derives most of its abundant humor from mistaken identities and disguises, outrageous characters such as Moonface Martin, a.k.a. “Public Enemy 13,” and the Chinese card sharks Ching and Ling, and a confusing knot of romantic entanglements which, of course, are satisfactorily unwound in the end. “The Drowsy Chaperone,” first produced on Broadway in 2006, travels a similar road. In other words, if you liked “Anything Goes,” you will love “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

The “Man in Chair” (Alex Dubinsky in the Our Gang production), a reclusive Broadway fanatic, introduces the show when he decides to deal with a major case of the blues by playing his favorite album, a rare cast recording of a mythical 1928 show, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The show-within-a-show comes alive in his mind and on stage as his barebones apartment (it is easy to imagine a third-floor walkup in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the Great White Way, crammed with stacks of yellowing Playbills and newspaper reviews and an almost empty refrigerator) morphs into a Broadway stage.

The show’s opening production number, “Fancy Dress,” introduces the cast and sets the story line. Everybody is decked out because oil tycoon Robert Martin (Glenn Parker) is about to be wed to Broadway star Janet Van De Graaff (Jessica O’Brien, a frequent Our Gang performer/director/choreographer who, despite her young age, was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her choreography by the New Jersey Association of Community Theaters). The problem is that Janet plans on retiring from the stage, which doesn’t please Broadway producer Feldzieg (John Gatti), who wants her to continue starring in his “Feldzieg’s Follies.” Nor does her retirement please two gangsters (Ariana Centamore and Cory Damato) who, in disguise as pastry chefs, tell Feldzeig their boss has invested in his show and woe is he if the producer can’t break up the wedding.

Others awaiting the nuptials include socialite hostess Mrs. Tottendale (Denise Bohr) and her can’t-be-fazed employee known simply as “Underling” (Bill Magnan); Robert’s best man George (Eddie Itte); the ditzy flapper Kitty (Lindsay Monaco), who hopes to take Janet’s spot in “Follies”; renowned (at least in his own mind) Latin Lover Aldolpho (Anthony Greco, who also directed this Our Gang production and whom Our Gang fans surely can’t forget as J. Pierrepont Finch in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”); Janet’s “Drowsy Chaperone” (Laurie Toole), who is supposed to keep Janet away from Robert until the wedding ceremony; and Trix the Aviatrix (Morgan Domato), an Amelia Earhart type (remember, fliers were all the rage in the 1920s).

Feldzieg enlists Aldolpho in an attempt to break up the upcoming marriage, wanting him to seduce Janet so that Robert will have nothing to do with her. But the Latin Lover mistakenly woos her drowsy, a.k.a. drunk, chaperone instead. Meanwhile, Janet is upset when she runs into Robert (she escaped when the chaperone needed a nap), who is roller-skating while blindfolded (a long story). She pretends to be a French girl, Mimi, who is interested in the story of the couple-to-be. He tells her how he met and fell in love with Janet and, overcome by the memory and, despite being blinded, senses “Mimi” is a lot like his betrothed and kisses her. That sets her off – her fiancé kissing a French tart!

Oh boy, things are getting confusing. Without getting into the weeds with details, which are much funnier on stage than when written down, suffice it to say that George will soon have to be the best man for four grooms!

There’s no doubt that “The Drowsy Chaperone” pulls out all the stops for laughs, with its endless string of mistaken identities, disguises, outrageous characters and spit takes (drinks flying into the air when characters react to new revelations). It really seems like a 1920s/1930s musical, complete with great dancing scenes, witty lyrics, and music that faithfully reflects the era. Not for nothing did the Broadway show earn 13 Tony Award nominations, winning five, including Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score.

By the way, “The Drowsy Chaperone” has a decided local connection. The late Roy Miller, who served as Beach Haven’s Surflight Theatre producing artistic director from 2010 through 2012, was the lead producer for the show’s Broadway production.

Speaking of Beach Haven, the date for another important Our Gang event is rapidly approaching. The troupe’s popular annual “An Affair to Remember” fundraiser will be held at Uncle Will’s restaurant in Beach Haven on Sunday, Oct. 22. It combines dinner with entertainment by Our Gang performers.

Two sittings will be held, the first at 4 p.m. and the second at 7. To reserve tickets and make your menu choices (a char-grilled 6-ounce. filet mignon with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables for $32 with an option of adding a jumbo crab cake for an additional $6; Faroe Island wild caught salmon with sweet potatoes and grilled asparagus for $28; manchego and panko encrusted chicken breast with mashed and mixed for $24; broiled jumbo lump crab cakes with sweet potatoes and asparagus for $26; grilled macadamia nut encrusted mahi-mahi with sweet potatoes and asparagus for $28; or five large mushroom raviolis with chanterelle sauce and asparagus for $20) call 609-597-0553.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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