The Drowsy Chaperone, nudged a few degrees, could be a kind of social-realist downer. A middle-aged man, in an oversized cardigan and slippers, sits alone in his New York apartment. He plays his old show tune records on a loop, and dryly critiques them. His all-time favourite show, 1928’s The Drowsy Chaperone, materialises in his living room, and we’re afforded a ringside seat.
Our host’s devotion to this show is at the expense of human society. He unplugs the phone because it interrupts a solo. A handsome electrician turns up to reset his wires – alas, no euphemism – and confesses that he, too, loves a good musical. At this point in the musical within the play, no less than three couples have gotten engaged. So we prime ourselves for a final jab of meta overlap, in which our solitary narrator gets hitched as well. Instead, he summarily slams the door in the man’s face, returns to his armchair and glass of scotch, and cues up the finale.
Created in the late ’90s and premiering on Broadway in 2006, The Drowsy Chaperone is an affectionate parody both of the musical as a form and of its devotees. The musical that springs to life within it is pure screwball. A Broadway star is getting hitched to a young suitor. They met on a cruise, and he charmed her with ‘stories of my father’s oil interests’. Around them revolve a constellation of familiar types: the Latin lothario, the over-the-hill star with a drinking problem, the long-suffering butler and his mistress, and the large, booming-voiced impresario who’s desperate to keep his star away from matrimony and in front of the footlights. This production at Hayes Theatre, directed by Jay James-Moody, reconceives ‘Man in Chair’ as a younger man, but nothing is lost. Equal parts enraptured and tart, he’s a great character, an embodiment of the gimlet-eyed but riotous mood this show captures expertly.
The Drowsy Chaperone is on until April 6 at Hayes Theatre.