by Shirley Lorraine
High energy hilarity hits Simi stage
Actor’s Repertory Theatre of Simi brings the house down with its current production of The Drowsy Chaperone now on stage through September 1. The 1920’s musical within a current comedy provides everything one could desire for an entertaining evening at the theater –lively music, dancing, overdone characters, mobsters, spit-takes and explanatory narrative.
The play opens in the dark as Man in Chair (Kevin Ellis), an agoraphobic devotee of musical theater, introduces the audience to his favorite musical, the fictional The Drowsy Chaperone. As he plays the LP on his record player (yes, a record player!) he outlines the characters and basic plot of the story. As his excitement increases, the musical magically comes to life in his living room, complete with lavish costumes, lights and brightly colored set. It is an unusual treatment that is enchanting, different and captivating.
Plot A features a socialite, Mrs. Tottendale, (Denise Jaffe) who is about to host a fancy wedding between a Broadway starlet (Dawn Michelle) and her debonair fiancé (Vincent Perez). She is assigned a chaperone (MarLee Candell), a drunken diva who handles her duties only slightly. A frenzied producer (Will Shupe) desperately wants the starlet not to marry. Two mobsters disguised as Max Sennett type pastry chefs encourage him to derail the wedding.
Plot B brings forth a highly characterized Latin Lothario, Aldolpho, (George Chavez) who seduces the wrong woman, romantic interest between air-headed Mrs. Tottendale and her butler Underling (Mueen Jahan) and Trix, an aviatrix (Shandar Robinson) who comes out of nowhere to wrap up the action in fine musical theater fashion.
It’s all quite tongue-in-cheek and a ton of fun. Imagine adding a tap-dancing best man, a roller skating (blindfolded, no less!) leading man, back-up singer/dancers, a ditzy chorine with questionable talents (Mary Zastrow), nonsensical song lyrics and more energy than should be allowed on one stage. All this with no intermission.
The cast is simple tremendous. Michelle and Perez vocally shine, as do Candell, Chavez, Robinson and Shupe. Choreography is spirited with an ensemble that fills in all the gaps with gusto. Ellis, as Man in Chair, pulls it all together with unending enthusiasm, charm and wit. He is simply delightful.
Superb costuming by Joshua Stapel adds to the flight of fancy inherent in the 1920’s extravaganza. The result is a visual feast.
Director Robert Craig and Producer Jan Glasband have made some slight script updates to be relevant without changing the intent. All the alterations work well. Staging is sharp and makes excellent use of the many entry and exit opportunities provided by set designer Will Shupe.
Musical accompaniment is provided by a live orchestra but never fear, the actors are amplified.
Be prepared for an evening of nonstop hilarity, high energy, high volume, beautiful costumes and outstanding performances across the board.
With stage offerings of this quality in Ventura County, there is no need to travel further than the county borders for excellent theater. It’s right here in our own backyard. Go. Enjoy.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through September 1. Tickets are $28 adults, $24 seniors and students, $20 12 and under. (805) 583-7900 or www.simi-arts.org.