LOS ANGELES, CA - I realized I was old when I spent $80 a ticket on a show called RENT and left feeling like I didn’t get it.  People were screaming and standing on their feet and yet there I was, confused.  I was the older generation now. Many new shows have the same issue: performers standing on the lip of the stage, yelling at me for two hours straight, overacting all the while. What has happened to true musical comedy and the subtleties in acting? It turns out that it is not completely dead after all.

Like a breath of fresh air, is The Drowsy Chaperone, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre. This is the first exciting, truly great musical I have seen since Sweeny Todd.  This show is witty and keeps the audience in stitches most of the evening.  Poking fun at musical theatre while still paying homage to it, it addresses nerds and geeks, namely people who still listen to records, like me.  And it is surprisingly touching, when for a brief moment near the end, you realize that life is rather sad and disappointing but we have our musicals that take us away from our grimy little lives and make us feel better if only for a moment.

Sutton Foster is one of very few true triple threats.  Her voice is stunning, yet she even manages to execute several single armed cartwheels (because her wrist is broken) and comes down into a thigh numbing split.  Winning a Tony Award for her performance as Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, she is vivacious, funny and full of true talent. One of the best numbers in the show is “Show Off” where Foster insists that she wants no attention from the world and the media, while simultaneously usurping every ounce of the limelight.

Beth Leavel as the Drowsy Chaperone herself, is reminiscent of classic stars like Judy Garland.  Her subtle, seasoned performance brings the entire production a notch higher.  She speaks with an unforced command that only comes from solid theatre training.

Bob Martin is a comic genius, speaking the words we’ve all thought when sitting in a darkened theatre waiting for the overture to start.  Playing the part of the “narrator” or the Man in Chair, he gets the show rolling by putting on an old L.P. of his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, while hanging around is dull apartment. As the music begins, the apartment comes to life with colorful characters, dancers and singers from an bygone era. His comic timing is impeccable. He even makes eating a Power Bar hilarious and every nuance of his character is layered with a combination of self consciousness and a true unbridled joie de vivre for musicals. His monologue about the plight of a gay man in a straight marriage was delivered brilliantly. 

As darling as ever, just like the days of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, is Georgia Engel,  playing a delightfully funny airhead: the soft spoken, vapid, neophyte. It was only slightly distracting when her ukulele strumming does not match the real ukulele player in the pit, but I suppose the fact that chorus girls come streaming out of the refrigerator creates an already unbelievable situation: like most musicals of that time.  That is what makes it so charming.

Troy Britton Johnson’s character, The Underling is divine, perfect really, with every bit of snobbiness and compassion the butler character can muster.  Even funnier than his recurring role on Frasier, he has to endure being spat on repeatedly, even by the delicious Ms. Engel, which is a feat few actors could bare with such comedy and grace.

Aldolpho. ALDOLPHO. Adolpho! How many ways can this name be sung? Dozens of times actually: fast, slow, loud, soft, elongated and every other possible permutation known to man.  During his song, “I Am Aldolpho,” Danny Burstein is fabulous as he introduces himself to whom he thinks is the bride he is supposed to seduce, but who is actually the older, eternally drunken Chaperone.

It’s hard to imagine that two, goofy bakers who sing and dance are really two gangsters in disguise, but that is exactly the case with Jason Kravits and Garth Kravits.  The pair adds some of the funniest moments to the show. Rounding out this stellar cast is Eddie Korbich, Lenny Wolpe, Jennifer Smith, Linda Griffin, Angela Pupello, Joey Sorge and Patrick Wetzel. Each ensemble number is a showstopper in itself, especially the final, aerodynamically charged song, “I Do, I Do In The Sky,” which features the phenomenal Kecia Lewis-Evans playing the character of Trix.  For an unforgettable evening of fine performances and exciting new music, don’t miss The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing through December 24 at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center.

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