[All photos by SPRY ART PHOTOGRAPHY. Click any photo to enlarge.]
By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III “The People’s Critic”
It was exactly one quarter-century ago when I had the first of what would be dozens of opportunities to review the splendid musical productions of CLASS ACT as you can see here:
Now, these 25 years later, the organization continues to amaze with the astonishing, Broadway-worthy musical productions it produces year after year. The latest such success story is its absolutely wonderful “The DROWSY CHAPERONE,” now playing for one last weekend at the Class Act Theater in The Woodlands, Texas.
The authors of this uniquely constructed 1998 Musical (Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison, Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar), have conceived a show so unusual in its organization, it is simply fascinating to see it all play out on a stage.
We are guided along on this intriguing journey by the central character who is simply described as, “The Man in the Chair.” (Cyril Pajestka in a brilliantly understated performance as the young man who serves essentially as the show’s narrator.) As you might expect, the show opens on a darkened stage, with that narrator sitting in a chair beside his old-fashioned record player, along with his vast collection of 33 1/3 record albums of Broadway musicals. In what may be a longer soliloquy than any Shakespeare ever created, the narrator begins to informally address the audience as though they were a group of friends visiting his home. But Mr. Pajestka handles it with such ease and skill that it is totally believable as the narrator reverently relates his passion for listening to these musicals, while imagining everything that would be happening in a full production. He selects one of his albums titled, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and begins to play it for us. That is where the sheer genius of this show begins, because as he imagines what would have been happening in a Broadway staging of this imagined musical, the entire show begins to come to life right before our eyes. All of that is beautifully supported by the fine set design of Kevin Colburn, Lighting designs of Jonathan Shelledy, Sound designs of Meredith Alexander, and especially the countless beautiful period costumes from designer, Alyson Gerber.
The lightweight Roaring 20’s plot is fun from beginning to end, as we meet the entire large cast in the dazzling opening number, “Fancy Dress,” and even the household servants join in the fun reminding one of a scene in “My Fair Lady.” The setting is the elegant home of a wealthy widow, the absent-minded Mrs. Tottendale (amusingly played by Sarah Ryan).
Everyone is preparing for the anticipated marriage of the adorable, young, (and soon-to-be retiring) starlet, Janet Van De Graaff (Grace Schexnayder). Her betrothed is the very good looking and endlessly cocky fiancee, the ever-beaming oil tycoon, Robert Martin (uproariously played by Beau Snortland.)He looks for all the world like one of those handsome men modeling Van Heusen shirts in fashion magazines of the day. Thanks to masterful leadership from Director/Choreographer, Heidi Kloes, and Musical Director, Kameryn Zetterstrom, the couple is perfectly cast, and like the rest of the actors here, in my opinion they all could have easily passed the test on any Broadway stage.
Brilliant choreography is a hallmark throughout the show, and explodes right away with “Cold Feets,” and the stunning tap dance acrobatics of Robert and his Best Man, George (Jack Wheeler). Mr. Wheeler brings still more fun to the delightful “Wedding Bells” number. And Janet, a natural born “ham” herself, insists she will leave show business to become a dutiful wife, but without the blessing of her Broadway producer, Mr. Feldzieg (Jadin Rivas). While performing the song titled, “Show Off,” she is unable to resist flamboyant gestures with every line of the tune, while repeatedly singing “I don’t want to show off no more.” It is a laugh riot. Another amusing aspect of the show is the way the narrator sometimes wanders through his imagined scenes while commenting to the audience, and there are even humorous moments when his needle gets stuck on the record and the full cast freezes in place until he adjusts it.
The comedy continues to escalate with the arrival of the mildly alcoholic Chaperone, (Natalie Monreal), who is charged with protecting the bride’s virtue until the wedding. Singing, “As we Stumble Along,” with the full cast joining her, cocktail glasses in hand, Monreal’s droll, dead pan characterization reminded me of Beatrice Arthur’s “Mame” performance as Vera Charles on Broadway. Then still another comic plateau is reached with the tango-flavored and deliciously outrageous performance of Latin lover, Adolfo (Henrik Zetterstrom). And what a voice this guy has! Wow! Then there is a delightful and delicate pairing of Robert and Janet for the sweet, “Accident Waiting to Happen.” And before the close of Act One we meet two gangsters disguised as bakers, (Ella Schexnayder & Amy Jackson), along with Mr. Feldzieg, his “dumb blonde” protegee, Kitty (Angela Pajestka in a sassy fringed flapper dress), and Mrs. Tottendale. They all join forces with the ensemble for the lively “Toledo Surprise” number. And all that fun takes place in just Act One. To sample the delights of what happens after Intermission, do yourself a favor and try to capture one of the last available tickets. You won’t be sorry. It is an absolute joy!
The DROWSY CHAPERONE will have final weekend performances this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and there will be matinees both Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. For tickets and information visit http://www.classactproductions.org
Performances will be at the Class Act Theatre, 25275 Budde Rd. (Suite 27) The Woodlands, TX
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com