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Published: Saturday, 1/16/2010

‘Drowsy' is simply fluff, but it's entertaining fluff


If sophistication is a requirement for your theater-going experience, The Drowsy Chaperone fails with flying colors.

If it's light-hearted fun you're seeking, the show, which runs through tomorrow in the Stranahan Theater, delivers.

A combination homage and spoof of those early 20th-century musicals such as Dames at Sea and No, No, Nannette, The Drowsy Chaperone opens cleverly: The auditorium is in complete darkness for what seems to be forever, then an anxious voice drifts from the stage.

“I hate theater,” the voice says. “Well, it's so disappointing, isn't it?”

The voice belongs to Man in Chair, who lives in a shabby New York apartment with his collection of vinyl records and souvenirs from Broadway shows past. It turns out he loves theater — at least old musicals that have a story and music that transports an audience into imaginative places far from his humdrum life.

He puts on the cast album of his favorite musical, a 1928 confection called The Drowsy Chaperone, and his drab surroundings become the set of the glitzy show.

It's filled with stock characters: the fading star, the young Broadway darling who sells tickets, the ditzy blonde, the Latin lothario, the English butler, and so on.

As the story unfolds — Broadway darling wants to marry millionaire and retire, producer fears for fate of show, gangster-investors want their money — Man in Chair interprets the action, explaining why the scenes are proceeding in a certain way and occasionally making caustic comments about the quality of the writing and the music.

Craig Treubert plays Man in Chair. A poorly dressed schlub whose passion for musical theater is apparently boundless, he's an engaging Everyman who smoothly gets the audience to invest its sympathy with the characters before us.

Led by Elizabeth Pawlowski as starlet Janet Van De Graaff and Patti McClure as the aging star hired to keep Janet away from her fiance on their wedding day, everyone deliberately plays the characters over the top. But that suits the silly dialogue and sillier situations.

The costumes are gorgeous, sets are clever, and music is, at best, pleasant, with highlights including “Cold Feets,” in which bridegroom Robert Martin (Bradley Zarr) and best man George (Erik Christensen) dance until their shoes begin to smoke, and “Show Off,” wherein Janet sings about how she won't miss the spotlight while doing everything she can to keep it on her.

Kristin Netzband and Matt David as a woman and her butler ramp up the fun, and Dennis Setteducati and Marc de la Concha steal the show as two not very intimidating gangsters. McClure steals a few scenes from Pawlow-ski, and Roberto Carrasco as the Latin lothario steals a few scenes from everyone.

The Drowsy Chaperone is a captivating piece of fluff that hums briskly along — about 150 minutes, no intermission — and sends most people home with smiles.

It's a great antidote for the winter gloom.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is scheduled at 2 and 8 p.m. today and 2 and 7 p.m. tomorrow in the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets range from $23 to $55. Information: 419-381-8851.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com or 419-724-6130.

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