'Hairspray' keeps its bounce at Fair Park Music Hall

Written by DSM Columnists on Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

6/25/2008 12:00AM CST
The Dallas Morning News

'Hairspray' keeps its bounce at Fair Park Music Hall

Nearly six years after it debuted on Broadway, Hairspray is turning out to be the most influential musical of the decade. To figure out why, check out the touring version that the Dallas Summer Musicals opened Tuesday.

Three things make Hairspray special: The stage adaptation of John Waters' cult movie adds just the right dash of sincerity so that the formerly tongue-in-cheek story about an overweight teen determined to integrate 1962 Baltimore taps into a deep American mythos, the pursuit of happiness. The score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman forges 1960s pop styles into beautifully crafted Broadway songs, and Jerry Mitchell's choreography (lovingly re-created here by Danny James Austin) keeps the fizz in the phosphate for all 2 ½ hours.

Here's the plot: Plus-size Tracy Turnblad (Brooklynn Pulver) tries out for a local TV dance show but is rejected by the evil producer. In detention, she picks up new steps from some black kids. Her new routine catches the TV host's eye and gets her a berth on the show, where the heartthrob, Link (Taylor Frey), eventually realizes he likes Tracy better than the producer's haughty daughter. But when Tracy insists that the black kids should be able to appear on the tube more than the one day a month to which they've been consigned, trouble erupts.

The big gimmick, carried over from the film, is that Tracy's mom, Edna, is played by a man in drag. Edna is so sensitive about her weight that she hasn't left the house in years, but Tracy fixes that, too. The point of the show is the people who've been discriminated against win out in the end.

Although this tour features a young, non-Equity cast, it maintains standards. Ms. Pulver seems so competent and practiced that she skirts falling into routine, but her singing is exceptional. In fact, most of the performers show off strong voices. It's a good thing, though, that a lot of the audience has already seen the musical movie remake, because the lyrics are even harder to understand than usual in the intractable Music Hall acoustics.

The performers zip through all the dance numbers as if their shoes were filled with helium, too.

For me, the most memorable aspect of this edition of Hairspray is Jerry O'Boyle's Edna. More than anyone else I've seen do the role, he really acts it. He never affects a self-consciously feminine gesture, but you believe him as a woman. He's got great comic timing, too – and his big number with his stage husband, Wilbur (Dan Ferretti) – "(You're) Timeless to Me" – brings down the house.

Even though the incessant, smarmy double-entendres clash with the musical's intrinsic sweetness and social conscience, Hairspray is beginning to feel pretty timeless itself.

Plan your life
Through Sunday at Fair Park Music Hall. 155 mins. $18 to $80. 214-631- 2787, www .ticketmaster.com

Dallas Summer Musicals garners two more Tonys®!

Written by DSM Columnists on Sunday, June 15, 2008 at 12:31 PM

6/15/2008
Dallas Summer Musicals
Dallas Summer Musicals garners two more Tonys®!
posted by Steven Hall


2 MORE TONY AWARDS® FOR Dallas Summer Musicals:
BOEING - BOEING!
PRODUCED IN PART BY DALLAS SUMMER MUSICALS
"BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY"WINNER!
"BEST PERFORMANCE by a LEADING ACTOR in a PLAY"WINNER!

Michael Jenkins, President & Managing Director of
Dallas Summer Musicals, pictured at the left of the group.

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE interview with Michael A. Jenkins

Written by DSM Columnists on Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 12:36 PM

6/2007
WRR 101.1 FM Radio
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE interview with Michael A. Jenkins
Interviewed by Christopher Hackett

Audio recording of President and Managing Director Michael Jenkins interview about THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, running June 3 - 15, 2008 at the Music Hall at Fair Park.

Michael Jenkins


'Chaperone' brings bygone stage musicals back to life

Written by DSM Columnists on Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 2:01 PM

06/05/2008 CST
The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
'Chaperone' brings bygone stage musicals back to life
by Mark Lowry
mlowry@star-telegram.com
View article on their website here

DALLAS -- On its champagne-fizzy surface, The Drowsy Chaperone is a homage to the kind of musicals they just don't make anymore.

But if you're a true musical theater buff -- you wouldn't think of trading your vinyl copy of Pal Joey for 100 special-edition CDs of Wicked -- then this love letter to the theater is so much more. And the vibrant, tremendously good tour at Fair Park Music Hall is bound to tickle you every shade of pink.

The show won five Tonys in 2006, and it's easy to see why. It spoofs the broadly comic situations and sometimes perplexing lyrics of Jazz Age shows, and sets it up ingeniously.

A narrator, simply called Man in Chair (Jonathan Crombie), is home alone, about to play his double LP of one of his favorite musicals, a fictional one called The Drowsy Chaperone. As he does, the 1928 characters come to life in his apartment. He frequently pauses for asides about musicals, theater, intermissions and overly silly comic relief. And the more he drinks, the more he gets into it. And so do we.

The confection he loves so much centers on the decidedly uncomplicated plot of actress Janet Van De Graaff (Andrea Chamberlain), who will give up her career to marry the rich and dashing Robert (Mark Ledbetter). Satellite roles include the ditzy Mrs. Tottendale (Georgia Engle from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, reprising the role she played on Broadway), a tap-dancing best man (Richard Vida), the stereotypical Latin lover Adolpho (James Moye) and the tipsy-but-wise title character (Nancy Opel). They're all fantastic, capturing that 1920s spirit.

Crombie is funny, sad and utterly real, immersing himself in the role of a man who would be lonely if not for his collection of cast recordings. If you've ever caught yourself singing along in the car -- and in various character voices -- to, say, A Little Night Music, then you'll identify.

I, of course, know no one like that.

The Drowsy Chaperone
Through June 15
8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and June 8; 2 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and June 12
Fair Park Music Hall, 909 First Ave., Dallas
$18-$84
817-467-2787 or 214-631-2787; www.dallassummermusicals.org

Be advised: Nothing offensive
Runtime: 90 minutes, no intermission

Best reason to go: The show itself and this cast. Funny, energetic and moving.
Mark Lowry, 817-390-7747
mlowry@star-telegram.com

The Drowsy Chaperone, The Column Review

Written by DSM Columnists on Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 11:08 PM

6/4/2008 1:10PM CST
The Column
The Drowsy Chaperone
by John Garcia
*THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (National Tour)Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg MorrisonBook by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Dallas Summer MusicalsDirected and Choreographed by Casey NicholawCostume Design by Gregg BarnesScenic Design by David GalloLighting Design by Ken Billington and Brian Monahan


*REVIEWED 06/04/08 PERFORMANCE THE DROWSY CHAPERONE

Musical theater is a unique, fickle, and engrossing art form. It runs the gamut in regards to emotion, originality, structure, and whether a certain musical is "art" or "commerce". Suffice to say history has shown us both in abundance. Broadway and out of town tryouts is littered with the failures and successes in regards to putting a story set to music and dance, call it art, and make a buck in the process.
But then to create that special musical that is lavished with critical praise, awards, and sold out houses-well that takes a miracle. Many fail, so few succeed.

Personally I can sit through a dark, emotional piece like SPRING AWAKENING and savor the power of its message and painful, brutal raw honesty. But I can also sit back and enjoy the colorful fluff of LEGALLY BLONDE. The snooty naysayers will thrust their noses so high up into the air and with a cold response dismiss some musicals as "Pure dribble. It's not art." Jeez, loosen up those panties and just sit back and enjoy the fluff. What's so wrong with that?

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE may be fluff-but oh what a delicious, scrumptious, and glorious piece of musical theater confection it is!

TDC opened at the Marquis Theater in May 2006, where it sipped champagne and tapped away for 674 performances, closing in December 2007. It would go on to receive 12 Tony nominations, winning five awards- including Best Book and Score. It would lose the Best Musical trophy to JERSEY BOYS.

The musical opens to reveal a man in his New York apartment, ready to cozy up to his record player and enjoy one of his favorite cast recordings ever-"The Drowsy Chaperone". Serving as commentator and narrator, he takes the audience along a hilarious journey into the musical as well as provides wicked bon-bons of backstage stories and gossip of the various stars within the production. It's a musical within a musical.

This is by no means an "internal" musical, everything is grand and over the top-which fits the piece beautifully. They play to the back of the house, wringing every last drop of laughter they can squeeze out of the material.
The book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar is full of wacky, zany set ups, outlandish subplots, and loaded with never ending jokes. Sure some of the punch lines and set ups are groaners, but you groan with a huge smile on your face. And yet so many of the tongue in cheek, "wink wink" jokes are absolutely hysterical and provide so much dazzling comedy to the piece. I will not spoil the riches of side splitting laughter here for you. But suffice to say you will leave with your face aching from laughing so much. Martin and McKellar even add towards the very end a wonderfully touching moment that does tug at the heart. It's a solid book that pays off big time within the framework of this musical.

The loopy, toe tapping score is provided by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. Some songs work better than others. But many of the big, splashy company numbers are a sublime homage to those wild and over the top musical numbers from roadway's golden age. Some of the best songs include "Cold Feets"; "Show Off"; "As We Stumble Along"; "I Am Aldolpho"; "Message from a Nightingale"; and "Bride's Lament".

Casey Nicholaw's direction and choreography are spectacular in both areas. He knows when to allow the over the top wackiness go at full throttle, and then pull back for a heart warming moment. His marvelous choreography is full of eye popping dancing, from some grand tap numbers to delightful jazz flavored ones. The staging & choreography really glow brightly here.

From the design elements, it is David Gallo's delightful sets and Gregg Barnes gorgeous costumes that serve as yummy eye candy. The main set is the New York apartment, but throughout the evening Gallo brings it set pieces, furniture, back drops, staircases, and so on to bring to life the musical within the musical theme. Barnes drapes his cast in magnificent, 1920s period costumes that are dripping in layers of beads, sequins, and rhinestones. His color palette is an array of blinding colors that actually add another level of energy to the stage. I did notice that some costumes have been designed differently for some characters. Such as the costume worn by the Drowsy Chaperone for her big solo. Nonetheless, these costumes are ravishing and will leave you drooling in your seats from its splendor.

The entire cast delivers outlandish, side splitting performances, with some who chew the scenery like famished wolves, with the audience savoring along with them every morsel.

Within the large company providing crowd pleasing performances include Georgia Engel (Mrs. Tottendale); Robert Dorfman (Underling); George (Richard Vida); twins Paul & Peter Riopelle as the Gangsters disguised as pastry chefs; and Fran Jaye as "Trix", the female pilot.

Andrea Chamberlain gives the ingénue role of "Janet" equal amounts of sass and purity. "Janet" is a famous star who is willing to give it all up for marriage, and is wondering if her groom truly does love her. Chamberlain brings to the stage a sweet disposition with a lilting nightingale soprano that can belt with the best of them. Her facial expressions are priceless during some of the mad cap comedic scenes that's she involved in. If you saw Sutton Foster (who originated the role on Broadway) on the Tony telecast perform Janet's big solo "Show Off", let me tell you that Ms. Chamberlain will make you forget that performance in a heartbeat with her hilarious characterization and divine singing voice.

As the groom to be "Robert Martin", Mark Ledbetter taps like there's no tomorrow in his big, show stopping number "Cold Feets". His interpretation of his character's voice reminds you a little of Dudley DoRight, which works perfectly within the framework of his hysterical characterization. A tall, handsome redhead, he sings beautifully and has wonderful chemistry with Ms. Chamberlain.

James Moye gives such a hilarious, scene stealing performance that he should be arrested! He portrays the Latin star "Aldolpho", using a Spanish dialect that is just so, so bad, it has the audience rolling in the aisles. A tall, swarthy fellow who wears a pepe Le Pew skunk like hairdo, he commands and devours the stage with his comedic brilliance. I wish though his character had more than one song, because Moye's performance is so downright hysterical, you want even more of him on stage.

Jonathan Crombie just wins the audience's heart with his hilarious, yet moving performance as the "Man in Chair". Sadly he has no major solo, but he serves as our guide into the musical. Crombie's sublime comedic delivery, timing, and pace is jaw dropping amazing from beginning to end. Even the throw away lines create loud laughter from his hypnotic performance. Throughout the evening he glides in and out within the musical providing comments, quips, and gossip revolving around the stars and the show-which result in ear splitting laughter. But then towards the end, he touches the heart with a soft, melancholy approach to musical theater in regards to his life. Crombie is outstanding in this tour.

My first exposure to Nancy Opel was in the Broadway production of URINETOWN. The production had its entire original cast still intact, but it had a very special and significant position in my life. For you see I saw it in November 2001, less than two months after that horrific tragedy we know as 9/11.

It was on a cold, rainy, and grey matinee that I attended along with a friend. The previous day we went down to where the World Trade Center once stood. It was overwhelming emotionally to say the least. So quiet.
URINETOWN opened on September 20th, the first musical to open since 9/11. They thought about postponing the opening because of the tragedy, but New York would not allow that. The show must go on. So when I saw it, this cast gave it their all, leaving the audience laughing from beginning to end. Ms. Opel portrayed "Pennywise", and had me crossing my legs to prevent me from peeing on myself from laughing so hard because of her comedic riot of a performance. She would go on to earn a Tony nomination for this role.

So when I opened my program last night and saw Ms. Opel's name, I felt a soft ache in my heart, and I quickly wiped a tear from my face so that my friend who came along did not see me. The emotions of actually seeing ground zero when it was still so fresh (the outer skeletal frame of one of the towers was still there) and watching Ms. Opel give such a great performance all came back to memory for me right then and there.Opel portrays the title role and walks-no- runs away with the show! She again brings to the table that magnificent comedic timing, delivery, and pace that radiates from her talents like blinding gold. She is one of those true talents that even when she is standing there, doing nothing but reacting, she still generates ear shattering laughter. The role requires her to be a grand diva of the stage, even though she brings her own liquor cabinet (fully stocked!). Her big solo "As We Stumble Along" is a sublime, comedic, tour de force gem that sparkles exquisitely thanks to this comic firestorm of a lady. Opel gets some of the loudest laughs of the night and rightfully so! She is superb from the second her bejeweled pump touches the stage boards.

If you work in musical theater or if you love musical theater-this glittery bauble of a musical was created just for you! You will be kicking yourself non-stop if you miss this spectacular touring production. It is fresh, exciting, hysterical, dazzling, and fillsyour heart with song and laughter.

The man in chair says something that is so, so, so true. Musicals that are full of color, song, and dance allow us to forget the world outside, if just for a brief two hours.We are in the midst of an ugly war, soaring gas prices, food is now costing more, airfares are through the roof, constant politics on the news, earthquakes, tornados, and so forth.

Take it from me: Go NOW to the Music Hall, buy a ticket for THE DROWSY CHAPERONE and let this dynamic company take you away from all that for two hours. Trust me; it is worth every dollar of that ticket!
GRADE: A+

Superiority of the Drowsy Chaperone tour

Written by DSM Columnists on at 2:05 PM

6/4/2008 3:51PM CST
overthetopblog.dallasnews.com
Superiority of the Drowsy Chaperone tour
by Lawson Taitte
mailto:Taitteltaitte@dallasnews.com


I get kidded sometimes for maintaining that something we see here in Dallas -- either a tour or a local production -- is often superior to the original Broadway show. I don't think I've ever seen such a marked difference, though, as in The Drowsy Chaperone, which the Dallas Summer Musicals opened last night.


In my review, I detailed some of the cast members I think genuinely superior to the Broadway originals. I left out the specifics of the female lead role, Janet, though I praised the current performer, Andrea Chamberlain. But you wouldn't believe how much better she is than Sutton Foster -- who first came to Broadway stardom by winning a Tony Award for the lead in Thoroughly Modern Millie. In that role, and every role since, Ms. Foster has projected a brassy, knowing professionalism that lacks a spark of sincere feeling or charm. The one time I have liked her is in the current Young Frankenstein, which doesn't need feeling or charm.


It has been very hurtful to Broadway in recent years that producers hire the same people over and over because they believe the performers have a following. Some of those performers just aren't very good, I'm afraid.
View article on their website here

National tour of 'The Drowsy Chaperone' outdoes Broadway version for charm, poignancy

Written by DSM Columnists on at 12:12 AM

6/4/2008 12:00AM CST
The Dallas Morning News
National tour of 'The Drowsy Chaperone' outdoes Broadway version for charm, poignancy
by Lawson Taitte
ltaitte@dallasnews.com

If you fret that they don't make comedies like they used to, The Drowsy Chaperone will ease your pain. And give you a laugh or two.

This musical about a fictitious old musical won more Tony Awards than any other Broadway show in 2006. I was a naysayer back then, but I have repented. The national tour that the Dallas Summer Musicals brought to town on Tuesday is the reason for my conversion.

It's not just a matter of affection growing on closer acquaintance. Role for role, the road version is much better cast than the New York original. Charm – a scarce commodity on Broadway – now abounds.

Take the central role, Man in Chair. Even before the lights go up, this namby-pamby narrator is talking to the audience. He has invited us into his living room, where he's about to play a beloved old LP of a 1920s musical named, naturally, The Drowsy Chaperone. He sets the scene and puts on the overture – as the show comes to life behind him.

Bob Martin, who co-wrote the book with Don McKellar, performed the part himself originally. Here it is his old friend and fellow Canadian Jonathan Crombie, familiar to American audiences as Gilbert Blythe on the TV version of Anne of Green Gables. Mr. Crombie makes Man in Chair lovable in spite of, or perhaps because of, his theater-obsessed neuroses. He's realer and more poignant than Mr. Martin was.
I found several of the principal performers on Broadway downright annoying, but that doesn't happen with the touring cast. Andrea Chamberlain projects a lovely 1920s quality as Janet, the stage star ostentatiously giving up her career to marry the heir to a petroleum fortune, Robert (Mark Ledbetter). Wistful and glamorous by turns, Ms. Chamberlain reminds you of Betty Boop as interpreted by a young Bernadette Peters.
Georgia Engel, the one New York performer carrying over on the tour, gently sells the songs Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison wrote for the show. As her comic butler, Dallas favorite Robert Dorfman clowns it up magnificently and displays an unsuspected talent for tap dancing. James Moye even makes the nearly insufferable fake-Italian lover boy, Adolpho, entertaining.

Best of all, one of Broadway's top comedians, Nancy Opel, plays the title role with a broad insouciance that takes us into her confidence. The chaperone – whose sole function is to make sure the bride doesn't see the groom before the wedding – brings along her own liquor cabinet. It's Prohibition, after all. Ms. Opel can belt and croon and mug hilariously while doing one of the best drunk acts you'll ever see. The original performer in this role won a Tony; if there were any justice, Ms. Opel would be given a pair of them to balance on her mantelpiece.

Die-hard musical theater fans must not miss The Drowsy Chaperone. This touring version is so good you can have a good time even if you couldn't tell Cole Porter from Stephen Sondheim in a crowd of two.

View article on their website here