In the darkness, we hear a theatregoer's lament, and a prayer for the current state of the theatrical art. The lights come up; we see a rather ordinary man, sitting in a chair in his rather ordinary New York apartment. Admitting to a state of "non-specific sadness," he asks us to escape with him as he plays the LP of his favourite musical: Gable & Stein's The Drowsy Chaperone.
Dropping the needle on his hi-fi, Man In Chair's imagination takes flight with the sound of a full orchestra. Soon, into his apartment parades the entire cast of the original 1928 production.
With caveats of its "two-dimensional characters" and "well-worn plot," Man In Chair now guides us into the story...
On the grounds of her estate, the dotty dowager Mrs Tottendale is to hostess a wedding. She confers with her butler, Underling. The groom, dashing oil-magnate-heir Roobert Martin, toasts his bride, Broadway starlet Janet Van de Graaff. Best Man George, the weight of the wedding on his harried shoulders, protests; the bride mustn't see the groom on her wedding day George fobs Janet off to the already half-in-the-bag (i.e. "Drowsy") Chaperone.
Broadway Impresario Mr. Feldzeig bemoans his fate to dizzy chorine Kitty: Janet's getting married is a catastrophic development. Two Gangsters, posing as Damon Runyonesque, Pastry Chefs, put the screws to Feldzieg to keep Janet in "Feldzieg's Follies," at the behest of its primary investor - their underworldly Boss.
As Robert attempts to calm his wedding-day jitters, George recommends that the love-struck groom go roller skating: "That's what I do when I wanna blow off steam!" George then blindfolds Robert before sending him off, lest Robert accidentally set eyes on his fianc?e.
The scene is interrupted by Man In Chair's telephone ringing - which he pointedly declines to answer.
The scene shifts Poolside, where the glamorous Janet lounges before a ravenous press, who pepper her with questions: Won't she regret leaving Show Business for a man she barely knows? Janet, with the requisite plate-spinning, hoop-jumping and one-handed cart-wheeling, rebuffs the suggestion.
Desperate to stave off the impending nuptials, Feldzieg seeks an accomplice in self-described Latin Lothario Aldolpho. Goading Aldolpho by alleging that the Groom is slandering him, Feldzieg slyly suggests that the hot-headed Spaniard settle the score by seducing the Bride. Aldolpho sets off to exact his revenge.
We shift now to Man In Chair's least favourite - "The Spit-take scene" - wherein Mrs. Tottendale, instructing Underling on Prohibition code words, ends up drenching the poor serf in half-swilled vodka instead. Meanwhile, Janet expresses her misgivings to the Chaperone: is Robert in love with Janet, the girl, or with Janet Van De Graaff, Glamorous Broadway Star?
After the Chaperone sings what Man In Chair calls "Basically ... a rousing anthem about alcoholism", the Chaperone, claiming "Drowsiness," sends the wary bride off to find Robert and ask him "the one question upon which [her] future happiness depends: 'Roger, Do you love me?" Janet - correcting her - leaves the place alone for the grand entrance of Aldolpho.
Seeing the Chaperone, Aldolpho mistakenly assumes she is the one upon whom he is meant to practice his legendary lovemaking skills. Surprisingly, the Chaperone throws herself into his arms. The King of Romance, not one to trade the thrill of the chase for the object of the hunt, holds the Chaperone at bay.
Into the garden, blindfolded and on roller skates, glides a blissfully unaware Robert. Janet follows, disguising herself as "Mimi," a mysterious French girl. Caught up in the memory of his first meeting with Janet, which he recounts as they skate a pas-de-deux, Robert and "Mimi" share a kiss ... but Janet, realising, slaps the befuddled swain and dashes away, in tears.
Feldzieg paces. He's about to lose his leading lady - and the use of his kneecaps - for sure. Kitty volunteers to replace his star with her mind-reading act: "Kitty, The Incomprehensible." But when the Pastry Chefs arrive, Feldzieg throws them off the scent by combining their sense of rhythm with their weakness for cooking metaphors!
Aldolpho enters to announce: The wedding is off! He has made love to the Bride, indicating - the Chaperone! The room exhales. The wedding is on."The wedding is off!" The speaker is Janet herself. "Robert kissed a French girl. Her name is Mimi. She's very beautiful." Robert pleads: "I couldn't help it, Janet! She was just like you - only French!"
As the Ensemble sings a reprise of despair, Janet and Robert's dreams lie in tatters, and...
The curtain falls on Act I. It is now Intermission. Or, at least it would be - if we were sitting at the Morosco theatre in 1928, watching The Drowsy Chaperone ... Which, of course, we are not.
The Man crosses before the closed curtain and eats a power bar, musing about his own wedding. "Are you surprised to hear I was married? Well ... " And now he has to go and take a comfort break. While he's gone - we can listen to the opening of Act II.
The Man has left us alone to witness a catastrophic mistake he has made - which owes to a snafu from his once-monthly
housekeeper, whose penchant for touching the Man's records now bears its strange, Oriental fruit. A quick change of LPs' and the second act of The Drowsy Chaperone is under way.
A depressed Janet sings longingly. The song devolves into a Mad Scene, as the tormented Bride is torn between her "Life of Glamour" and a future with Robert. Meanwhile, as Mrs. Tottendale and Underling muse about the history of love their observations cast their own magic spell ... which is nearly ruined by Man In Chair's phone ringing again. This time he simply rips the machine out of the wall.
As the recording spins toward its conclusion, the Chaperone and Mrs. Tottendale reveal that they are to be married to Aldolpho and Underling, respectively. George nearly blows a gasket: "Everybody's getting married except the bride and groom!" Janet turns for advice to her beloved Chaperone. "Should I marry Robert?"
Man In Chair turns to us: "Here it comes - the moment that has fascinated me more than any other."
The Chaperone delivers her words of wisdom - which - owing to yet another old-fashioned, LP-related snafu - are promptly rendered inaudible! Playing this moment over and over for us, this vinyl flaw, combined with a little too much brandy, leads to a semi-drunken rant from the tortured Man, who unburdens himself about the confluence of unfortunate events that have led him to this pass, this moment, and this life. He drops the needle on the fateful moment one more time.
"You have no idea," the drained Man concludes, "how many times I've listened to that."
And yet, Janet turns to Robert - and agrees to marry him.
As George revels in his success at planning the wedding, it dawns: he forgot to book the minister! No matter - a literal Deus Ex Machina appears in the form of Trix the Aviatrix, whom we glimpsed briefly in the opening, landing her bi-plane behind them. Thinking fast, the assemblage points out that as the Captain of a Ship (of the air), Trix can perform the marriages) herself! Trix happily obliges and as the betrothed couples climb aboard the plane, the play reaches its penultimate note - and there is a power cut.
The record grinds to a halt. The stage is plunged into darkness.
Alone now, the Man is beside himself, inconsolable; one note from the end, and the moment is ruined. Falling into despair, he seeks comfort by singing to himself. And yet this time, the Man discovers, he is not alone ... those characters he loves so well have never left his imagination. They stand beside him, ready, as ever, to transport him. As the play draws to its (quite literally) uplifting close, the Man disappears, with his memories, his dreams, and - for whenever he's feeling a little blue - his beloved recording of The Drowsy Chaperone.
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