The current production at the Kelsey Theatre, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, fooled me.
I thought Maurer Productions OnStage, to be a community theatre group, but this show is nothing like so many community theatre productions where some of the actors are good; a few of the singers are fine; most are just “all right.”
“Good” is an inappropriate adjective to apply to this cast and production. This adjective must be “excellent.” Caught up in the laughter and amusing stage business, I had to do a reality check. Was I really seeing community theatre or had they brought in some professional “ringers”?
The show begins in a darkened theatre with declarations from “The Man in the Chair” (Mark Applegate). From the first moment Applegate began speaking about what he expects when he goes to the theatre, I sensed this show would be special because of the timing, interpretation and delivery with which his lines were delivered. Applegate cleverly plays his delightful self-deprecating character.
Having not seen this show before, I thought, “Well, let’s see where this goes…let’s hope there are some good performers in the rest of the show, too.” Then, the lights came up, and magic happened.
Director John M. Maurer with music director Laurie Gougher, Choreographer Jane Coult and producers Diana and Dan Maurer, have assembled a cast most of whom have resumes support my viewpoint that their performances were “professional”. These people have brought their vast training and experience for the delight of Kelsey patrons. Theatre magic is happening there and the audience loved every minute of it.
Every one of the solos is spectacularly acted and sung. Every performer’s voice and acting is beyond expectations, demonstrating their stage comfort and charisma. Some of them even deliver very credible tap-dances.
This production is what theatre is meant to be — entertaining. Presented in a contemporary manner, it is a spoof about what musical shows once were like. In fact, “The Man” gets so excited talking about the old musical he loves, that he becomes physically and hilariously involved as he plays a record and imagines his favorite show happening in his apartment. It’s “The Drowsy Chaperone” a musical with a cast of 20 costumed singers.
Kimberly Suskind, with a BFA in musical theatre from the Boston Conservatory, plays leading lady, Janet Van De Graaff, demonstrating so well her various talents, training and experience.
Cindy Chait, simply wonderful as “the drowsy chaperone” is new to the Kelsey stage, but has performed leads in many plays and musicals throughout this area.
Michael Fario plays Robert Martin. Theatre goers are fortunate Fario has brought his singing, acting, and dancing talents back to the stage after a 10 year hiatus.
In the broad, over-the-top character of Adolpho, the Latin lover, is Robert Gougher. His extreme behavior brought many laughs to some already silly situations.
Chris E. Arena is George, the character trying to make everything run smoothly in the musical within the play. Arena surprises the audience when, after his 16 year dancing hiatus, he breaks into a fine tap routine with Robert Martin.
Playing a smaller, but significant role of Trix, the Aviatrix, is Jennifer Winn. Not only does she command the stage when she appears, but she had a strong, rich appealing voice. Winn has won numerous awards and is a two-time regional finalist with the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions where she received the “Stage Presence Award”.
Completing the fine cast of primary players are Rosie Karling as Mrs. Tottendale, Tom Bessellieu as Feldzieg, Samantha Ricchiuti as Kitty, Dan Slothower as Underling, Joe Zedeny, Gangster #1, and Nicholas Pecht, Gangster #2. Judi Parrish plays her cameo role perfectly as The Superintendent after an 18 year hiatus from the stage.
Six others in the cast are members of the ensemble, people who seldom are recognized, but deserve to be. They played well the roles of various people donning appropriate costumes and fulfilling their requirements: Sally Page, Melissa Geerlof, Jennifer DeFilippi, Kiernan Matts, Smith Michaels, Benji Sills.
The terrific and clever set design was by John Maurer, with painting by Amy Bessellieu, administrative assistant at the Kelsey who received a Perry Award nomination for earlier set work. Good lighting design is by Kitty Getlik, artistic director of the Kelsey. Costumes by Kathy Slothower showed vision and careful planning.
Fine musicians playing in the loft supported and underscored the performers.
Unfortunately, sound levels and feedback were occasional problems on opening night. Surely sound designer Matt Shoppas will have the kinks worked out by now.
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE plays for just about two hours without an intermission. Tickets are $18 for adults; $16 for seniors. This show is not really appropriate for young children, but everyone else should find much to enjoy in a show worth seeing.
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Directed by John M. Maurer
June 8 – 17, 2012
at Mercer County Community College
1200 Old Trenton Rd.
West Windsor, NJ 08550
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