The liner notes to this show’s cast album presumptuously declare the show to be the next in a line of daring, offbeat off-Broadway transfers following Urinetown, Avenue Q and Spelling Bee. In reality, Chaperone isn’t remotely in a class with those works: it’s just a standard-issue Producers ripoff (and not a very good one at that).
Yes, I know it’s not based on a movie, but the fact remains that it contains nothing but the same tired musical-theater genre parodies we’d seen in a dozen or so better shows earlier in that decade. The show is nominally aimed at hardcore musical-theater fanatics, but not only does it have a rather condescending and offensive attitude toward its own target market (it’s called ‘biting the hand that feeds you’ and it’s never a good idea), it’s also riddled with factual errors about the subject that wouldn’t bother a casual theatergoer, but which are exactly the kind of thing that drives the show’s intended audience crazy (LPs in the Twenties, for example).
The entire show is centered around the petulant complaints of a bitter old theater snob who can’t handle the fact that (Gasp!) the art form has actually progressed in fifty-plus years, and musicals are not exactly like they were when he was young. He comes across rather like a less amusing version of Gerard Alessandrini: at any rate, he is perhaps the creepiest and least likable main character of the decade, and his endless whining about the way things used to be wears out its welcome well before the end of the first scene.
I realize that the character is meant on some level as a parody, but as I stated, the show is aimed at serious Broadway buffs, and it might have been an unfortunate choice to portray their fictional stand-in as a neurotic, fanatically snobby camp-gay stereotype with no real friends or emotional connections, who is shown to be barely capable of performing the functions of everyday life.
Granted, the overall bulk of the show is devoted to a passably accurate re-creation of a Twenties musical…arguably too accurate, since it suffers from all of the dated qualities that are exactly what makes most real Twenties musical unrevivable. This could have at least been admirable as archaeology, but the appeal of actual Twenties shows all hinged on their musical numbers, and this show not only failed to deliver a score that could convincingly stand in for Cole Porter, but even to provide a score that could compete with its own contemporary peers. The songs are ham-fisted genre parodies, too clichéd and corny to be of interest as songs in their own right and not witty or creative enough to be interesting as spoofs.
Sutton Foster was no doubt the show’s greatest asset, but this clearly continued her streak of doing shows that weren’t worthy of her talents. It tells you something about how bad the ’05-’06 season really was that The Drowsy Chaperone was considered one of the two best shows of the year and the only legitimate competition Jersey Boys had for the Tony.
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