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Love and Marriage in the '20s and the '80s

The cast albums of The Drowsy Chaperone and The Wedding Singer will send you to musical comedy heaven. logo
If you get your hands on the original Broadway cast recording of The Drowsy Chaperone (Ghostlight), you'll be all set up for a meta-theatrical experience of the highest order. Just in case you haven't heard, The Drowsy Chaperone is actually the title of two musicals: the one that's now on stage at the Marquis Theatre (what a bad choice for this show!) and the musical within the musical, a 1920s confection that comes to life as the show-tune worshipping "Man in Chair" enjoys for the umpteenth time the fictional tuner's fictional Broadway cast album. Now, thanks to Ghostlight, you can have pretty much the same experience as Man in Chair (Bob Martin) -- though you probably shouldn't expect glamorously costumed '20s performers and colorful sets to suddenly appear in your living room when you listen.

By the way, if you still own a working turntable, you'll soon be able to approximate the Man in Chair's experience even more closely. Sometime in the near future, Ghostlight plans to release The Drowsy Chaperone as a vinyl LP, the recording format that our hero possesses in the show. Unfortunately, there are no plans for a set of 78rpm platters, which is how the album would have been released in 1928 if there were full recordings of Broadway shows (with dialogue!) in those days, which there weren't. Fans of The Drowsy Chaperone are more than willing to effect such a major suspension of disbelief, but one has to wonder why book authors Bob Martin and Don McKellar, and songwriters Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, didn't choose to spoof a '50s musical as the show within their show. That would certainly have made the existence of a complete cast album more plausible.

I can only assume that the creators zeroed in on the '20s because they love the musical comedy conventions and characters of that era. The Drowsy Chaperone concerns a Broadway starlet who wants to get married and give up show business. The zany plot complications involve her drowsy (read: inebriated) chaperone, her panicky producer, an over-the-top Latin lover, and a pair of comic gangsters, not to mention an aviatrix and other colorful figures. The music of The Drowsy Chaperone is purposely generic but the score as a whole is lifted to a high level by the wit of Lambert and Morrison's lyrics, not to mention the alternately wry and loony comments of Man in Chair as the show unfolds around him.

Such wit extends to the full-color, 32 page booklet included with the CD, which features a reproduction of the title page of the fictional show's program. (It purportedly opened at the Morosco Theatre on September 18, 1928. This is an in-joke, as the Morosco was torn down along with the Helen Hayes to make way for the Marriott Marquis Hotel, home of the poorly designed theater in which The Drowsy Chaperone is playing).

The booklet also has made-up quotes from fictional critics of the time and an essay titled "How I Came to Write The Drowsy Chaperone" by Sidney Stein, who supposedly authored the show with his partner, Jule Gable. (The two men featured in the mock photo of the team are Joe Perrotta and Heath Schwartz, two of the actual show's press agents.) Also to be found on the CD are two bonus tracks: "Message From a Nightingale," said to be from the Gable & Stein musical The Enchanted Nightingale (a bit of it is sung in Drowsy), and "I Remember Love," a song that was cut from the Broadway production of the Lambert-Morrison-Martin-McKellar show.

The recording boasts spot-on performances by Sutton Foster, Danny Burstein, Edward Hibbert, Georgia Engel, and 2006 Tony Award winner Beth Leavel in the title role. (Has anyone every played drunk more hilariously than she?) There are also worthy contributions from Troy Britton Johnson as the groom, Eddie Korbich as the best man, Garth and Jason Kravits as the gangsters, Lenny Wolpe as the producer, and Jennifer Smith as a bubble-headed chorine. The sound quality of the CD is excellent -- thankfully, Ghostlight has not gone so far as to ape the scratchy low-fi of a 1928 recording -- and Phil Reno conducts the orchestra with oodles of energy. (The excellent orchestrations are by Larry Blank). But the true star of the recording and the show is Bob Martin, delivering the quips that he and Don McKellar wrote for Man in Chair with impeccable comic timing and an obvious adoration of musical theater.


Although The Wedding Singer and The Drowsy Chaperone are vastly different in many ways, they're similar at heart. For all of the former's spiky '80s sounds and the zippy, '20s-style tunes of the show within the latter show, both are funny, lightweight musical comedies about the often rocky road that leads from love to marriage. For the life of me, I simply can't understand why The Wedding Singer didn't receive rave reviews and why it's not a boffo box-office smash. Based on the popular film of the same title, which starred Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the musical isn't exactly profound; but it's romantic, sweet, clever, and laugh-out-loud funny in the manner of the deserved hits Hairspray, Avenue Q, and -- yes! -- The Drowsy Chaperone.

The cast album, released on Sony/BMG's new Masterworks Broadway label, confirms my initial impression that Matthew Sklar's music and Chad Beguelin's lyrics are thoroughly delightful. I concur 100% with my TheaterMania colleague Peter Filichia's praise of the bouncy, catchy, joyful opening number, "It's Your Wedding Day," which the show's producers wisely chose to have the cast perform complete during the Tony Awards ceremony. (If that doesn't sell tons of tickets, nothing will.) Other highlights: "Pop!", as in "the question"; "A Note from Linda," given a hilariously vulgar performance by Felicia Finley; and an all-guys' ode to being "Single." Note that the score also includes the side-splitting "Somebody Kill Me" and the lovely "Grow Old With You," two songs written for the film by Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy. I've never seen the movie, but these numbers are winners, and it's a credit to Sklar and Beguelin that ego didn't stand in the way of their inclusion in the musical.

Stephen Lynch is a real charmer as wedding singer Robbie Hart. Though he made his name as the author and performer of edgy comic songs with such titles as "If I Were Gay" and "Manphrodite," Lynch's voice is so pleasing and expressive that he could probably have a career as a balladeer, and he has taken to the Broadway stage like a duck to water. (Both times I saw the show, he received ovations -- not the reflexive kind, the honest kind.) Playing opposite him as Julia is Laura Benanti, whom I originally felt was somewhat miscast when I heard she'd been tapped for the role. Wrong! The very qualities that I thought ill-suited to the role of this simple, working-class Jersey cater waitress -- Benanti's fine-boned beauty, her classy elegance, and her semi-legit voice -- prove to be great assets as she creates a characterization that's light years away from stereotype. Her best songs on the album are the yearning "Someday," the sweetly funny "Come Out of the Dumpster," and the lovely "If I Told You" duet with Robbie.

Matthew Saldivar and Kevin Cahoon are perfect as Robbie's fellow band members; Amy Spanger has her time to shine as Julia's friend Holly; and it's great to have Rita Gardner, the original Luisa in The Fantasticks, on hand as Robbie's hip grandmother. The one clinker in the score is "All About the Green," led by Richard H. Blake in the role of Glen Guglia, Julia's slime-bucket boyfriend. This number is superfluous in that the character really shouldn't have a number at all, but at least Blake makes it palatable.

A great deal of criticism has been leveled against The Wedding Singer, but believe me, it's a crowd pleaser. It can be difficult to gauge an audience's reaction to a heavy drama while the show is proceeding, and what people say afterwards about the experience may reflect what they think they're supposed to think rather than their true feelings. (This might be called "Faith Healer Syndrome" or "The Copenhagen Effect.") But if folks are rolling in the aisles at a comedy or a musical comedy, it's a sure sign that the show is connecting, because people simply don't laugh at something that they don't find funny. Both times I've seen The Wedding Singer, the theater rocked with laughter, cheers, and applause. Here's hoping the cast album and that smashing performance on the Tony Awards will boost the show's box-office numbers to where they should be.

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