Strong acting, infectious music, glittering costumes and split-second comic timing make The Drowsy Chaperone, Columbia High School’s all-school musical, a delight from beginning to end.
The laughter starts even before the curtain goes up, when the narrator, Man in Chair—played with extraordinary finesse by Columbia senior Jake Silberg—introduces “my favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone.” Drawing the audience in to his memories of 1920s-era musical theater, he drops the needle on an old-fashioned record player and the play comes alive.
The next ninety minutes are a fast-paced, thrillingly staged romp through the history of the musical, complete with gangsters, glitterati, a cigar-chomping producer, a showgirl, a goofball leading man, an aviatrix and a bona fide Latin lover (played by Deshawn Gray, in a scenery-chewing star turn).
Other standouts in the uniformly strong cast include Alex Henderson as the woozy, boozy “drowsy” Chaperone; Seth Wolin as the faux-British Underling; Austin Bommer and Tyler Pease as the Showgirl and her leading man; and a rich-voiced Anni Epstein as Trix the Aviatrix.
Special kudos are due to director Rob Cohen for bringing out the best in the talented young performers, along with vocal director Jamie Bunce, choreographers Bethany Pettigrew and Tricia Benn, instrumental director Peter Bauer, costumer and makeup designers Karen Fabbo, Carol Rutledge, and Jason Hayes, set designer Mark Halliday, and producer Michael Healy.
The pit includes both a jazz ensemble, which started out a bit tentatively on Friday evening but was swinging hard by the Sunday matinee, and a chorus to supplement the strong voices of the lead and back-up singers. The dance performances are outstanding, and the music is, well, swell.
Audience response has been “amazing,” according to Rob Cohen, with standing ovations at every performance. “The stars aligned on this production, with a great script and all the right people for every role. I’ve directed plays at Maplewood Middle School for years, and this was like working with the all-stars of musical and dramatic talent.”
“Every one of these kids is serious about theater and committed to doing great work. And it shows,” Cohen adds.
The Drowsy Chaperone will be waking up theater-goers for three more performances: Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available for $10 until Friday morning at the Columbia High School main office, Maplewood Stationers, Maplewood Pizzeria, Stony's in South Orange and Corner Deli in South Orange; or at the box office for $15 before the show. More information: 973-762-5600 extension 1018.