“The Drowsy Chaperone” is silly, insipid musical fantasy

Beth Leavel in the title role offers the only bright witty moments

By Lucy Komisar

“The characters are two dimensional and the plot is well worn,” says “the man in the chair” (Bob Martin). He‘s got it right. The nervous laughter from the audience is the kind that is elicited by TV sitcoms aimed at people who think they are supposed to laugh, so they do, even if they‘re not sure why. They‘re just used to following the laugh track. Alas, I‘m not.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” seems to be a joke on the audience instead of for it. The man (with no name) in a 1928 slightly seedy bed-sitter is fantasizing a musical. The very thin plot is that a producer does not want to lose his leading lady, the ridiculously named Janet Van De Graaff (the anodyne Sutton Foster), to marriage.

What transpires is (with a few exceptions), egregiously silly. Not campy, which needs to be clever. Simply silly. Smoke coming from the feet of tap dancers. Dumb jokes about old people. The butler is called an underling, and a “lady” spits water at him. This is a made-for-television play. And the TV audience has found it. They actually cheer when the dancing star, Foster, does a split!

The story and dialogue are inane. Janet: “Why are we dancing; our dreams are in tatters.” Robert (Troy Britton Johnson): “But the music is infectious.” She is conflicted. Robert is the right man, not her fiancé. But who the hell cares? Are those lines supposed to be so trite they are clever? They are not. Trite yes, clever no. Not the way Foster and Johnson deliver them.

Aldolpho, a heavy-handed, heavy-breathing would-be Latin lover played by Danny Burstein, is a painfully obnoxious character of the sort one might see on television, if one watched television.

On the other hand, Beatrice the chaperone (Beth Leavel), is a sophisticate who will have you eating (and drinking) out of her hands (“Keep your eyeball on the highball”). She is the best thing – the only good thing — about the play. She is drowsy because she drinks too much, maybe in self-defense against the idiots who surround her. Leavel dominates the stage; she also knows how to do satire. When director Casey Nicholaw gets good material and a good performer, he seems to know what to do. Think tongue in cheek.

The best number is an ironic production complete with Chinese red dragons and smashing costumes by Gregg Barnes, which depicts how Asians fascinate Caucasians. A cute musical bit throws in some Busby Berkeley and a little Jane Goodall. Yes, the primate anthropologist. The Aviatrix (Kecia Lewis-Evans), an excuse for getting a piper cub onstage, has a pleasing jazzy soprano.

But some of the parts are better than the whole.

“The Drowsy Chaperone.” Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison. Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar. Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw. Starring Danny Burstein, Georgia Engel, Sutton Foster, Edward Hibbert, Troy Britton Johnson, Eddie Korbich, Garth Kravits, Jason Kravits, Beth Leavel, Kecia Lewis-Evans, Bob Martin, Jennifer Smith, Lenny Wolpe, Linda Griffin, Angela Pupello, Joey Sorge, Patrick Wetzel. Sets by David Gallo. Costumes by Gregg Barnes.

Marquis Theatre. Broadway between 45th & 46th Streets. Tue-Sat 8pm; Wed & Sat 2pm; Sun 3pm; Running Time 1:45. $25-$110. 212-307-4100. http://www.drowsychaperone.com/

Photos 1 and 2 by Joan Marcus; 3 by Craig Schwartz.

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