Before this review can proceed, this reviewer has a small confession to make: She is a bit of a Clay Aiken fan-girl, so her review might be somewhat biased in his favor.
Now that the truth is out in the open, suffice it to say that, even without Aiken’s indomitable presence in his role as “Man in Chair,” North Carolina Theatre’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” would have been a success. This much-loved play, a winner of five Tony awards, is brought to full life on the stage of Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Complete with silly gags and corny-on-purpose puns, rousing choreography—including a major tap dance number, and larger-than-life costumes, this clever show, which serves as both an entertaining guilty pleasure and a smart parody of theatre itself, lives up to its well-deserved reputation.
The story is told through Man in Chair, a somewhat sexually ambiguous lover of theatre who puts on a record of his favorite play, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and imagines the entire cast performing in his living room. The audience sees the show the way Man in Chair has always imagined it and gets to experience it right along with him. The action of the show-within-the-show even stops and skips as Man in Chair manipulates the record, making for some funny gags.
Aiken is, as one might expect, the star of the show. From the moment he was revealed onstage at the opening night performance, the audience simply couldn’t get enough of him. He did not, however, use his loyal fan base as an excuse to hold back on the performance. Though Aiken does not sing in the role, he steals the show time and time again with his perfect delivery of the character’s comedic commentary, and the man really knows how to milk a moment. During the “intermission” of the record, Aiken has his character eating a Power Bar and almost oblivious to the audience for a full two minutes or so. These types of antics and the fact that the story’s somewhat bittersweet ending is played up nicely create an uncomfortable type of comedy and give the story an edge it often lacks in more mundane performances.
Aside from Aiken, Paige Faure as Janet Van Der Graaff and Beth Leavel as the show’s title character also turn out star performances. Faure brings a powerful voice and a charming presence to her role as the play-within-a-play’s heroine, while Leavel, who performed the role in the show’s first Broadway run, demonstrates the impeccable knack for comedy (and faux-drunkeness!) that made her a star.
Audiences looking for lighthearted fun and a hit-list of top performers will delight in “The Drowsy Chaperone.”