Monday, June 10, 2013

The Drowsy Chaperone at the Toledo Rep

Playing June 7-23, 2013 at:
The Toledo Repertoire Theatre
16 10th St.; Toledo, OH 43604

My brother California Dave is in town for an extended visit (he'll be here until his attorney straightens out a few things in L.A.), and being in need of amusement I decided to take Mom and Dave to the latest Toledo Rep production, The Drowsy Chaperone.  This is possibly the best decision I'll make this month, and it's still early.

Right from the time you can hear the hinges creak and the deus ex machina drops in right up until the fat lady closes out the show and the aulaeum drops, you'll be entertained by a Broadway quality production.  Keep reading to get the particulars, without spoilers.

The play is a comedy set in the 1920s that is supposed to revolve around a wedding, but doesn't.  Instead, the actors use the plot to showcase complex song and dance numbers interspersed with comedic routines and a certain amount of slapstick.  Like all other first rate things in this world, timing is everything – and the entire cast has absolutely perfect timing throughout the entire show.

Here's the cast, with an individual rundown on the performance and a few hints as to what to watch.

Heath Huber is billed as the man in the chair, but he's actually a combination of deus ex machina and George Burns.  Huber delivers several soliloquies and breaks the fourth wall constantly, and he does a superb job of building up to comedic delivery.  Just when you think he's beginning to sound a little tiresome, Heath delivers a punch line – and it isn't until much later that you realize he was setting the whole thing up.  Huber has a real talent for interacting with the audience, which is rare.  Up until Heath's performance, I've only seen this unusual delivery done well by George Burns, who had a rare talent for it.
Lane Hakel plays Mrs. Tottendale's valet, or Underling as she calls him.  Lane and Amy play off each other very nicely, and he's the perfect straight man to her zany antics.
Amy Spaulding-Heuring plays Mrs. Tottendale, known is some circles as Ukelele Lil.  She delivers one zany line after another to Underling, along with some classic slapstick.  Both of these actors play off each other very nicely.
Jeff Albright plays Feldzieg, a Broadway producer who opposes the marriage, but whose real job is to put his shoulder to the wheel and move the plot along.  He does so with great aplomb, managing to wrest the limelight away from the rest of the cast just long enough to tell us that time is passing.
Katelyn Lesle plays Kitty, a red-headed, red-hot flapper with purely physical talents who wants to be a real star instead of just a chorus girl.  Katelyn brings this off, but as she's delivering the umpteenth dumb Dora line you can see her laughing at herself.  You have to watch closely, which is pretty easy as Katelyn is hot enough to be a fire hazard.
Dana Pilrose plays the Drowsy Chaperone, the source of her lethargy being a fondness for juniper juice.  The time to keep one eye on Dana is whenever Aldolpho is singing about himself and his prowess as the original red hot Latin lover.  Dana plays off Aldolpho with perfect timing and expression.
Hallie Toland plays Janet, Our Heroine.  Hallie does an amazing job with this part, and carries the lead role through the most physically complex song and dance number I've ever seen.  The routine is physically demanding, and requires being able to sing, dance and perform a gymnastics routine all at the same time without mistakes.  Hallie brings this off with the kind of casual grace every actor on stage is trying for, but seldom achieves.
Devon Desmond plays Robert Martin, an Oil tycoon and Our Hero.  Devon has a good voice, fine delivery and a guardian angel working overtime.  You'll have to see the play yourself to find out why, but there's truth in every word.
Yvette Miller plays Trix, a female aviator.  Yvette has a great voice and I wish we could have heard a bit more of her singing.
Brock Jaworski plays George, Robert's best man.  Normally, Brock's job would be to set Devon up for the next one liner, but he does a lot more than that.  He manages to connect the myriad actors on the stage without getting in the way, which is real talent along with a lot of hard work.  Without Brock's effort, a few of the scenes would have been disastrous.
Eric Hillenbrand plays Aldopho, the repeatedly self-proclaimed Latin lover.  I'm not sure how Eric does this with a straight face, but he does bring it off and successfully couples an over the top stereotype with first rate comedic delivery.  Keep an eye on this one near the end so you don't miss the big laugh he's setting everyone up for.
Brien Sewell and Michael Rywalski play Gangster #1 and Gangster #2, two heavies disguised as pastry chefs.  These two have developed perfect timing and delivery with each other, and are never quiescent in the background.  Keep one eye on them when they're in the background as they are always up to something.  In point of fact, they'd steal the show and pawn it if the director wasn't watching them so closely.
Kenneth Erard plays the Building super.  Yeah, it's a walk on role, but it's important and he gets through it pretty well, although given the tenor of the play I half expected the cast to appear from the wings and start shouting encouragement.
Gail Mowry, Bridget Harrington and Scott Dibling are the Ensemble, otherwise known as the chorus line or the back up singers.  The play is musically demanding and the three are required to hustle on stage, assume awkward positions and sing.  They bring this off like the experienced professionals that they are.

The play is one and a half hours long and is very physically demanding.  Take a look at the actors when they finish a number and you'll see them sweating.  They're working hard at this, and their hard work is paying off in the highest quality theater we're likely to see in the Toledo area, and that includes Detroit.  The entire cast works hard, but most importantly the cast works together to deliver a top of the line performance with perfect timing.

This is a rare experience, and even someone as old and cynical as I am will leave the theater feeling just a little better about life in general.  That being the case, I'd like to see the play held over a few weeks.  I don't think it will be, but it should be.  Meantime,
keep your eyeball
on the highball
in your hand.
 - Dana Pilrose as the Chaperone

And now a word about the crew, without whom this play would not have been possible.
Deb Calabrese, Director/Choreographer.  The impressive part is the choreography.  Wait until you see the complex scenes where the timing must be perfect, then try to imagine just how you'd describe that to someone in the performance.  Deb brought it off, and it looks magnificent.
Jamie Dauel, Music/Vocal Director.  The music isn't particularly complex or difficult until you add dancing and try to keep it sounding like music.  It would have been easy to let the songs get away from you, but you did a great job with this one.
Scott A. Heuerman, Stage Manager.  Given that part of the stage manager's job is to keep track of where each actor is supposed to be on the stage, Scott must have been working overtime.  Lots and lots of overtime.  This is a tough production, and even with talented, cooperative actors it would be a ton of hard work.  Good job, Scott!
Jamie Naragon, Assistant Stage Manager.  Want to know who gets to do all the jobs that fell off Scott's plate, along with the scutt work?  Whatever they paid you for this, it wasn't enough!  You did real good, Jamie.
Rob Koenig, Sound.  The whole cast was wired for sound, and during the performance I saw we only lost one channel, and that was temporary.  Sound isn't easy when everything runs smoothley with just a few people, but this play would have kept anyone busy.  You did good, Rob.
Paul Alday, Lighting.  Good lighting is a lot like breathing; it becomes important when it stops.  The lighting on the stage is solid for this production thanks to Paul's efforts.
Tallie Kissinger, Costumes.  Everyone with me commented on the excellent costumes and the historical accuracy.  Thanks to Tallie for attention to detail.

Okay, here's the truth.  I just ran out of time and I have three people who deserve a much better review than I can give them.  They are:

Brad Riker, Props.
Sarah Hanson, Set Design.
J. Judson Lohman, Technical Director.

The play was excellent and a lot of the credit goes to the people who are never seen on the stage.  Good job, guys!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I have not been to a show for at least a year! I need to get back in the habit.