“…God, I didn’t pay a hundred dollars to have the fourth wall come crashing down around my ears. I just want a story, and a few good songs that will take me away. I just want to be entertained. I mean, isn’t that the point? Amen.” —Man in Chair
The innovative Resident Theatre Company of the Muck, The Electric Company Theatre, brings its limited run of the five-time Tony Award-winning musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, to the Muckenthaler’s beautiful stage, and while this musical is marvelously flashy and outlandish, The Drowsy Chaperone is also deeply sincere and profoundly heartfelt.
ECT’s The Drowsy Chaperone is its own sweet Autumn Valentine to its audience with a head-turning nod to the beauty of musical theater itself. With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and book by Bob Martin and Don McKeller, the show features one show-stopping song and dance number after another. Starring as the Man in Chair, is the prominent triple-threat actor and Executive Artistic Director of the Musical Theatre Academy of Orange County, the incomparable Jimmy Hippenstiel.
Ms. Karen Rymar, Director of Arts Enrichment at the Orange County School of the Arts, also shines in her role as the ever-so-tipsy Chaperone. The theater is darkened, and a solitary voice rings out, and after a few poignant moments, the lights go up to reveal the Man in Chair who has a serious case of the blues. Playing a musical theater record is what brings him out of his funk, and tonight’s choice is one of his favorites, the 1928 The Drowsy Chaperone about the mishaps at a superstar’s wedding.
As soon as Man sets that record spinning, a full live orchestra begins to play, and the colorful story unfolds into a full-blown musical comedy that far surpasses the brilliance and flair of an otherwise predictable vintage piece. Man in Chair doesn’t stay seated long as he is as animated as the rest of the cast, dancing, making cheeky gestures with the players, and hilariously tearing down the fourth wall at every opportunity.
Janet Van de Graff (the super talented Katie McGhie) is the star of Feldzieg’s Follies, and she is about to marry the handsome Robert Martin (the charismatic Hayden Magnum). If that happens, Feldzieg’s show goes in the toilet, and a couple of disguised gangsters will turn out the lights, for real. As is expected, Feldzieg (Stephen Reifenstein) is on a mission to stop the wedding; hence, the Chaperone’s single purpose is to keep the lovebirds apart.
The exceptionally talented Magnum stepped into the role of the happy bridegroom just 48 hours before showtime, and he doesn’t miss a step – even when he is roller skating across the stage blindfolded!
Reifenstein is a genuine natural as the incessant producer, and he “nails” the “suit guy’s” ambitious demeaner. McGhie (the bride-to-be) is not only beautiful, but she sings, dances, does cartwheels, and she kills it in her “Show Off” number with Company. Madeline Neavez’s Kitty is a hoot as the overbleached blonde with the high-pitched voice and the typical small town girl ambition to be the star.
Alfonso Neavez’s Adolpho is a scene stealer, and his attempts at being a lady killer send the audience into fits of giggles. His “I Am Aldopho” is a testament to his lovingly exaggerated comedic skills. The gangsters (Michael Reehl and Jared Lindsay) dressed as pastry chefs are carved right out of a ‘40s comedy sketch, and they, along with Feldzieg, Kitty, Mrs. Tottendale, and Company shine at the end of Act I with “Toledo Surprise.”
As Shayanne Ortiz’ hilarious Mrs. Tottendale gleefully “totters about” with her ringlets and bows, she could very well be a bibbity-bobbity-boo character on loan from fairytale land somewhere far, far away. James McFarlane is the servant, Underling, and his name says it all…Under appreciated, but oh so tolerant (The spit takes are really funny and prove his ability to serve in spite of spit!). Rymar’s comedic timing is impeccable, and as The Chaperone with perpetual drink-in-hand, along with her undeniable chemistry with Adolpho, she sparkles.
One of the big surprises is Angie D. Watson’s Trix the Aviatrix! Her “I Do, I Do in the Sky” number is an A+. Must mentions to Ryan Lee as George, Jose Orozco as The Super and a shout out to the rest of this stellar cast. Director Brian Johnson brings a contemporary vision along with a solid cup full of attitude, fun, and energy to this stunning production, and his cast is nothing less than glorious.
From one thunderous applause to the next, ECT’s Drowsy Chaperone is the show of the season, and if five stars aren’t enough, all the stars in the sky and on this stage say it all. This is a production that will be lovingly remembered.
Brian Johnson and Callie Prendiville Johnson are Co-founders and Co-Artistic Directors of ECT. Choreography by Emily Taylor; Musical Direction by Nathaniel Brown; Intimacy Coordination by Callie Prendiville Johnson; Scenic Design by Brian Johnson; Scenic Coordination by Kerry Ufholtz; Wigs by Kay Scott; Costume Design by Tana Carmichael; Lighting Design by Matt Mankiewicz; Sound Design by Andrew Border; and Stage Manager, Wade Williamson. And, Jimmy Hippenstiel says, “… And, that’s just what this show is…fun!” Don’t miss it.
The Muckenthaler Cultural Center is located at 1201 W Malvern Ave Fullerton CA 92833. Phone (714) 738-6595. Email info@theMuck.org. Runs September 20, 21, 22, 25, 26,27, & 28.