“The Drowsy Chaperone” at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa CA

Photos by Eric Chazankin

Jeff Cote
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

A Drowsy and Uninspired “Chaperone”

Theatrical risk-taking is admirable, but it’s also a crap shoot. With some shows, like musicals, the stakes are especially high. When a production is made up largely of Broadway-style song-and-dance numbers, and the company wants to ensure a hit with audiences, the first order of business should be to locate enough talent capable of rising to the occasion. If they can’t get the talent, it stands to reason the company shouldn’t undertake the production until they can. It’s like trying to leap a mile-deep crevasse and running the risk of only making it halfway across. The company has to decide ahead of time if they can afford to live with the results of such a leap. “The Drowsy Chaperone” at 6th Street makes a hop in the right direction, but lacks the necessary energy to propel it to the other side.

The material is good - “The Drowsy Chaperone” received 5 Tony Awards from its 2006 Broadway debut, including Best Original Score for music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. The show also enjoyed a popular run and has been performed by hundreds of regional theatre companies here and abroad. At 6th Street there are some tantalizing but all-too brief moments of what the show could be, but isn’t. Out of a cast of 17, only four performers seem to get what it’s all about and have what it takes for this type of production. The truly outstanding Daniela Beem, in the title role, literally struts away with the show. She commands the stage with her lusty voice and style, and steals nearly every scene when she’s onstage. Taylor Bartolucci is excellent as the giddy bride-to-be Janet, but seems only slightly miscast as the ultra-glamorous showgirl who is willing to give it all up to marry the man she loves. Two other performers offer praiseworthy efforts: Jeff Cote delivers a very engaging and natural performance as the nebbishy master of ceremonies Man In Chair. Jon Rathjen is really fun to watch as the gleefully overblown gigolo Adolpho. But the brave attempts by these four are not quite enough to take the show where it needs to go.

(From left) Taylor Bartolucci, Daniela Beem 
The rest of the cast seems to lack the enthusiasm or perhaps the understanding of what exactly they need to accomplish to make “The Drowsy Chaperone” a success. Strong choreography is the foundation of musical theatre. Choreographer Vicki Suemnicht’s results are cute but uncoordinated, what you might expect to see at a high school musical. The lone tap dancing sequence, which could have been thrilling, was anemic. The stagecraft, orchestra and costumes are mostly disappointing. Small creative changes, even in the lighting, could have made a huge difference in how the fantasy scenes come across. Direction and staging by Gene Abravaya lacks imagination, so unlike his successful work last year on 6th Street’s “The Final Scene”.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” promises “mix-ups, mayhem and a gay wedding” and it delivers. But that’s as far as it goes, and if you don’t expect any more than that, you just might enjoy it.

When: Now through February 5, 2012
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
2 p.m. Sundays
2 p.m. Saturday February 4
Tickets: $15 to $35
Location: 6th Street Playhouse – GK Hardt Theatre, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA
Phone: 707-523-4185
Website: www.6thstreetplayhouse.com