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REVIEW: Lively, Slick Drowsy Chaperone Wryly Delivered (Artistry)

Brittany Parker and Angela Steele in Artistry’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone. Photo by Hilary Roberts.

Slick dancing and choreography are longtime features of Artistry-produced musicals, but the company’s current production of The Drowsy Chaperone delivers strongly in the musical and acting departments as well. This production, playing through September 11 at the Bloomington Center for the Arts, is smartly and wryly rendered under the direction of Michael Matthew Ferrell and Anita Ruth.

For those unfamiliar with the name, The Drowsy Chaperone is the little Fringe show that could – a hit at the 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival that was expanded into a hit Broadway musical. Thirteen Tony Award nominations and five Tony Award wins later, the rest is history. Much of the musical is a meta look at the tropes of 1920s musicals, from styles of acting to stock character types to, ahem, depictions of non-Western groups that are now considered to be broadly offensive. Witty, meta commentary is delivered as the action unfolds by the Man in the Chair, excellently played by Tod Peterson.

This is a show where much of the fun is in seeing how themes you recognize manifest, so don’t spend any time reading the program notes or looking up synopses. Along the way, there are plenty of fun songs that are engagingly delivered, starting with the opening “Fancy Dress” and spiced with luminaries like “As We Stumble Along”, “Accident Waiting to Happen”, and the “Bride’s Lament”. Classic tap dancing is well on display, with well-paced and rousing choreography by Ferrell.

The main romantic leads, played by C. Ryan Shipley and Angela Steele, are a charming pair to watch and listen to. Shipley’s lustrous tenor voice and compelling charm sounds so lovely with Steele’s melodious mezzo that you wish they had more duets to sing in the show. Brittany Parker’s scene-stealing performance as the titular chaperone also makes you look forward to each time her character appears onstage.

Most of the rest of The Drowsy Chaperone is fluff – tongue-in-cheek fluff, to be sure, and not at all unpleasant. There are the expected hamming gangsters (Christian LaBissoniere, Seth Tychon), the squeeze they’re putting pressure on (Gregory Adam), and surprise celebrity appearances (Kathleen A. Hardy). Come for the music, stay for the dancing, remember the narration.

Basil Considine