Oregon Cabaret Theatre's "The Drowsy Chaperone" is an interesting musical, a parody piece set almost entirely in the imagination of an aging Broadway junkie, who lives alone in a small flat somewhere in Manhattan — a space with just a Murphy bed, a chair, and his memories, which are illustrated here by multiple black and white photos that festoon the walls of the tiny studio — each one depicting a different golden age star of the stage or screen.
The aptly named Man in Chair is played by John Stadelman, who anchors the show as a sort of pathos-laden, possibly closeted, Jack Lemmon-esque everyman in a fading cardigan. His only real pleasure in life is to listen to records of old shows and to reminisce. When he opens up a vinyl double album of a little-known musical called "The Drowsy Chaperone," all of the characters come to life in his apartment, to hilarious effect.
The show-within-a-show is about the wedding of a young oil tycoon Robert Martin (Jake Delaney, a delicious and talented piece of square-jawed eye candy) and his bride, Janet Van De Graaff (a Broadway ingenue played with infectious flapper enthusiasm by the equally luscious Layli Kayhani). This is a big production for OCT; the biggest, in fact, that they have ever attempted on their stage, in terms of the sheer number of actors in the show.
The drowsy chaperone herself — "drowsiness" being a rather coy euphemism for raging alcoholism and daytime drinking binges — is played wonderfully by Gretchen Rumbaugh, who gives a zaftig, Norma Desmond style performance. She is shortly swept off of her feet by Adolopho, an oversexed Frenchman of the stereotypical vernacular, who is brought to life by a rollickingly game Galloway Stevens. Stevens is, as usual, right on point — he is a hurricane of sexual innuendo and flamboyant melodrama, never missing a chance to arch an eyebrow, flare a nostril, and let loose with an oily charm that is reminiscent of Pepe Le Pew on his worst day. How any actor can face down Stevens and not laugh uncontrollably is beyond me.
Other notables include Lucas Blair and Josh Houghton as two mobsters masquerading as chefs, there to keep a producer named Feldzieg (an excellent Scott Ford, replete in pinstripes and aviator shoes) under their respective thumbs. Blair and Houghton can't seem to keep the thuggish natures of their characters from shining through; both give athletic and amusing performances, hilariously mispronouncing the various food items they have attempted to prepare and losing their cool with every minor provocation.
Elsewhere in the show, Billy Breed as an aging butler named Underling is quite brilliant in his understated contempt for the assembled socialites; his latent hostility melts away when he and his employer, a wealthy twit by the name of Mrs. Tottendale (Suzanne Sieber, playing the kind of clueless rich idiot we all love to hate) finally realize that their caustic repartee is a defense mechanism that belies their passion for each other.
Affairs are consummated across the board. Misunderstandings ensue, reconciliations are made, and various robustly choreographed high jinks will leave most any patron happy with the results of the show. Resident choreographer Valerie Rachelle has been replaced for this production by Keenon Hooks, a Los Angeles-based artist who began his career in dance as a high school student, and clearly knows what he's doing when it comes to assembling dance routines for a large ensemble cast.
The whole group does a smashing job, and the show is chock full of just the sort of madcap chicanery and unhinged character studies for which OCT has rightly earned credit. It's a terrific night of high-octane insanity, and it's well worth seeing.
"The Drowsy Chaperone" plays at Oregon Cabaret Theatre through Sept. 3.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.