“I hate theater.”
No, that’s not the long-suspected confession of a theater critic. It’s the opening line from the Sonoma Arts Live production of The Drowsy Chaperone, now running through July 31.
That line, followed by a litany of complaints about modern theater (shows are too long, actors shouldn’t interact with the audience, Elton John, etc.), is uttered in darkness by a disembodied voice. The lights come up on a gentleman (Tim Setzer) sitting in a comfy chair next to a record player, surrounded by Broadway musical cast albums.
The “Man in Chair” is feeling a little blue and usually finds solace by escaping into the fantasy world of Broadway. After first considering an escape to River City, IA via The Music Man, he decides to return to the decadent world of the 1920s, as presented in the classic Broadway musical, The Drowsy Chaperone (an entirely fictional show). As he plays the soundtrack, the characters from the show appear in his apartment and the audience is treated to a play-within-a-play, which is an amalgam of showbiz musicals of the time.
Broadway star Janet Van De Graff (Maeve Smith) seeks to give up the stage to marry the man she loves (Stephen Kanaski), much to the chagrin of her producer (Pat Barr). Under pressure from an investor and his gangsters (Rick Love, Kaikane Lavilla), the producer schemes to break things up by having a Latin Lothario (Andrew Smith) seduce Janet. Will love win out in the end? Need one ask?
The Man in Chair provides running commentary throughout the show, which also includes a staid butler (Sean O’Brien), a harried best man (Jonathen Blue) and, of course, a drowsy chaperone (Daniela Innocenti Beem).
Despite its opening line, Chaperone is a love letter to musical theater. There’s singing, dancing, comedy, colorful period costuming by Rebecca Valentino and just a wee bit of heart. Director Michael Ross shows a sure comedic hand in guiding his cast in threading the needle between loving parody and outright spoof.
Talented North Bay regulars populate the large cast, with Setzer the calm but bitingly amusing center of the on-stage storm. Sherrill Peterson’s band delivers the music, Maeve Smith and Dani Beem deliver the vocals, and the entire cast delivers in the Liz Andrew-choreographed numbers.
The Drowsy Chaperone delivers a lightweight escape for all.
‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ runs through July 31 at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Thurs–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $25–$37. 866.710.8942. Proof of vaccination with ID and masking are required to attend. sonomaartslive.org