“American Idol” season-two runner-up Clay Aiken wins the hearts and minds of Triangle theatergoers with his pixilated performance as the star-struck Man in Chair in the North Carolina Theatre‘s uproarious rendition of The Drowsy Chaperone, playing now through Sunday in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in the downtown Raleigh, NC. Aiken, who made his professional debut at age 17 in NCT’s 1996 productions of 1776 and Shenandoah, is a hoot as an eccentric, effete musical-theater snob with a special affection for a forgotten 1928 Broadway musical romance entitled The Drowsy Chaperone.
Although he doesn’t have much of an opportunity to sing, Aiken demonstrates a fine flair for comedy as Man in Chair sets the musical ball rolling as he spins remastered LPs from his favorite guilty pleasure and — like magic — the original Roaring Twenties cast of The Drowsy Chaperone materializes all around him — to flirt and dance and crack wise. Meanwhile, Man in Chair scampers around and through the action, introducing the characters and the actors and actresses who play them with pep in their step, thanks to NCT artistic director Casey Hushion’s robust recreation of the original 2006 Broadway direction and choreography devised by her friend Casey Nicholaw, while Hushion served as his assistant director.
Clay Aiken’s fellow Raleigh native Beth Leavel is a scream as she reprises Tony Award®-winning performance as the perpetually sozzled and always hot-to-trot title character, whose signature song — belted in a big Broadway voice — is “As We Stumble Along.” While Leavel is hamming it up hilariously — and stealing every scene in which she appears — Johnny Stellard and Paige Faure keep the waves of laughter rolling with their antics as well-heeled groom-to-be Robert Martin and his fabulous fiancée, big Broadway star Janet Van De Graaff, who would be having cold feet if they ever cooled off from her sizzling dance routines.
The caffeinated comic characterizations of the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed supporting cast and the invigorating accompaniment of the red-hot NCT orchestra, under the direction of Edward G. Robinson, help elevate this offbeat musical- within-a-musical from a “star package” to a full-scale musical extravaganza that compares favorably with the deluze touring versions of Broadway musicals that regularly visit the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill area of North Carolina. (Indeed, the North Carolina Theatre is the Triangle’s foremost purveyor of home-grown Broadway musicals!)
Original Drowsy Chaperone Broadway cast member Linda Griffin and her partner in mirth, Dirk Lumbard, amuse royally as the ditsy hostess of the Martin-Van De Graaff nuptials, Mrs. Tottendale (in her ante-bellum outfits), and the Underling who fulfills her every need (pun intended). Indeed, they raise the “spit take” to an art form!
Fearful of losing his prime attraction to marriage, the big Broadway producer named Feldzieg (puckishly played by Adam Heller) employs the oily would-be Latin lover Aldolpho (hammed to perfection by David Josefsberg) to seduce the bride, only things go awry almost immediately and Aldolpho sets his sights on another member of the wedding party — and provokes gales of laughter with his fumbling attempts to bed her.
Patrick Wetzel, who appears on the cast recording of The Drowsy Chaperone, adds a crisp comic cameo as George, Robert Martin’s hapless best man whose arrangements for the wedding unravel faster than he can knit them back together. Also making the most of their brief moments in the spotlight are Dana Zilman Harshaw as Feldzieg’s giddy girlfriend Kitty, who wants to replace Janet Van De Graaff as Feldzieg’s star of stars; Jeremy Morse as Gangster #1 and Eric Mann as Gangster #2, who are employed by Feldzieg’s chief investor and disguised as pastry chefs to pressure Feldzieg to ensure that the wedding gets called off; and Wake Forest chanteuse Yolanda W. Rabun as Trix the Aviatrix, who drops in just in time to save the day. The hijinks of Messrs. Morse and Mann are knee-slappers, and Rabun turns “I Do, I Do in the Sky” into one of the show’s musical highlights.
The Drowsy Chaperone’s magnificent scenery, originally designed for the Music Theatre of Wichita by J. Branson and George Mitchell, and the fab-u-lous 1920s fashions recreated by Branson and Mitchel for the Music Theatre of Wichita, Greg Barnes for The 5th Avenue Theatre of Seattle, and NCT costumer Ann M. Bruskiewitz provide a superlative setting and eye- catching costumes that make the Raleigh-based regional theater’s presentation of The Drowsy Chaperone look as good as it sounds. Don’t miss it!
SECOND OPINION: May 9th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Larisa Mount: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Reviews-Raleigh-Natives-Shine-in-NC-Theatres-THE-DROWSY-CHAPERONE-20130509, May 9th BWW Blog by Paige Faure: http://broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Blog-Paige-Faure-A-Very-DROWSY-Opening-20130509, and May 8th opening-night video by Stage Tube: http://broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Blog-Paige-Faure-A-Very-DROWSY-Opening-20130509; May 4th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Tim Stevens: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/04/2868535/drowsy-chaperone-is-the-musical.html and May 1st slideshow by Corey Lowenstein: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/05/01/2863682/first-look-the-drowsy-chaperone.html; May 2nd Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/x1592154894/Clay-Aiken-likes-Durham-s-flavor (Note: You must register to view this article); May 1st Raleigh, NC WNCN interview with Beth Leavel, conducted by Sharon Delaney and Valonda Calloway for “My Carolina Today”: http://www.wncn.com/video?clipId=8831174; May 1st Raleigh, NC WRAL-TV preview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBD6dbMNiUw; April 30th Raleigh, NC Walter Magazine preview by Liza Roberts: http://www.waltermagazine.com/coming-full-circle-with-clay-aiken/; and Feb. 22nd New York, NY Playbill.com preview by Andrew Gans: http://playbill.com/news/article/175265-Clay-Aiken-and-Tony-Winner-Beth-Leavel-Will-Star-in-North-Carolina-Theatres-Drowsy-Chaperone. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the May 7th Triangle Review review by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/05/clay-aiken-and-beth-leavel-will-star-in-ncts-production-of-the-drowsy-chaperone-on-may-7-12/.)
North Carolina Theatre presents THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, starring Clay Aiken and Beth Leavel at 7:30 p.m. May 9 and 10 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. May 11 and 12 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $30.10-$99.60 (including fees).
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext.6944.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/1014448.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 5204, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/group-sales.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 11th, performance.
Study Guide: http://tuts.com/Images/SeasonShowDocs/drowsy_study.pdf (Theatre Under the Stars).
Casey Hushion (director): http://www.nctheatre.com/about/staff (NCT bio).
Clay Aiken (actor): http://clayaiken.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_aiken (Wikipedia). Beth Leavel (actress): http://www.bethleavel.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beth_Leavel (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail arts newsletter. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.