By C.S. Gilbert
In the academic study of drama and the literature of the theater (aka Playwriting 101), we used to be able to identify plot-driven plays and character-driven plays. That may be a little iffy these days but not in "The Drowsy Chaperone," a howling hit that opened at Waterfront Playhouse Thursday night. This is a character driven show and the cast is the most astonishing collection of character actors ever seen assembled on a local stage in the past two decades.
Most audiences have to accommodate at least one snoozer: someone who's had a very exhausting day or too many cocktails or maybe even narcolepsy ... but, trust me, that individual doesn't stand a chance at "The Drowsy Chaperone." The laughs just come too fast and the music is just too lively.
If there is a moment of calm, Danny Weathers whips up the storm again. Weathers, longtime artistic director of the theater voted the best professional theater in Florida for several years running, appears in the central narrative role of a singular, manic Greek chorus of a man who closely resembles what the very professional Weathers might actually be like if only he let it really all hang out. He makes the part so much his own it seems to have been created for him. Ahem and amen.
The rest of the cast: OMG. Veterans and (a few) new recruits, every one of them do themselves proud and look like they're having as much fun as the audience. Kristin Michelle bolsters her stellar local reputation as the triple-threat ingenue -- acts, sings, dances and check out those cartwheels -- while reassuring the majority of the audience by actually having a little flesh on her bones. Laurie Breakwell kicks ass, character-wise, in the title role (apparently in 1928 "drowsy" was a synonym for decidedly tipsy) and reaches a few vocal heights as well.
There's an uncommon number of quick costume changes and almost all of them up to Waterfront's previous production "39 Steps," so there's the illusion that it's a cast of thousands. Cheers to the dancers; everyone has to dance in fact and cheers to choreographer Penny Leto, assisted by Carolyn Cooper who was herself excellent in the multi-charactered chorus along with some equally super choristers: veteran Phillip Griffin Tabb, the adorable Chris Tanner and relative newcomer Heather-May Potter, a Key West Burlesque performer who clearly shows she can be great with her clothes on, too. In the same vein, hurray for Key West Contemporary Dance Theater majordomo and dancer extraordinaire Kyla Piscopink: she acts and sings almost as well as she dances. Who knew?
Let me add that everyone was good to wonderful. Marjorie Paul Shook, Jeffrey Harwell, Andrew Hodge, Bruce Moore, Michael Pallansch, David Black (the Italian lover), J.B. McLendon and Rhett Kalman brilliant as Key West's new Abbot and Costello, Vicki Roush, Willie Alsedec in a wee part who's also listed as part of the running crew. But here comes the obligatory quibble: the happy tap dancing of Moore and newcomer Hodge (also great on skates) warms the heart, but Hodge as the male ingénue seems less strong as a singer than the rest of the cast.
Let's simply say hip, hip, hooray for the entire staff, cast, the set designer (Michael Boyer), the musicians (conductor Michael Fauss, Nancy 3 Hoffman, Jim Wist and Max Zemanovic) with a special tip of the hat to the one who has (in my experience) the hardest job of all, especially with a cast this size: Stage Manager Trish Manley.
"The Drowsy Chaperone" is the best musical comedy ever produced -- probably in the history of the world -- with 18 brilliant, mostly mad characters, an icebox and a Murphy bed. See it. It earns a record-breaking four Depends.