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Goodspeed's 'Drowsy Chaperone' Is Crazy Fun

‘The Drowsy Chaperone” is not woke. The show may briefly reference gay marriage, climate change and cellphone abuse, and may ask the probing question “What kind of society do we live in if we can’t discuss the similarities between pornography and musical theater?”

Yet make no mistake: This show is sheer, unrestrained escapism.

“I just want to be entertained,” our gracious host argues at the show’s outset. “Isn’t that the point?”

It is for the Goodspeed Opera House, which lavishly and lovingly revives this paean to bygone Broadway days of glitter, glamour, illegal hooch and intense tap dancing.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is as much fun as a roller-skating gorilla. Its dialogue includes pearls like “Dump the mug and stay with the mollies.” Its first big song and dance number is about a dress. The second one is about feet. This show is steppin’ out.

It’s crazy fun for those who exalt the musicals of Cole Porter, the Gershwin Brothers, and other shows of yesteryear where the songs ruled and the plots drooled. Obviously, this 2006 Broadway valentine to bygone musicals of the Jazz Age fits the music theater geeks at Goodspeed Musicals to a tea-for-two.

Yes, the show-within-a-show is a parody. We see exaggerated versions of classic showmanship. The cast glories in the challenge. The lyrics are clearly enunciated. The notes are cleanly hit, and held for an eternity. The plot, ridiculous as it is, is easy to follow. Those 1920s composers and librettists may have been on to something.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is merciless in mirthfully mocking hoary musical theater conventions. It comments on these cliches incredulously in live annotations offered while the show itself is in mid-performance.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” has star power, even if its stars are entirely fictional. The real-life performers playing these faded idols, seen as the stereotypes they’ve become, don’t hold back. They play big. They belt. They howl. They bring the house down.

The major stroke of brilliance of this show-within-a-show is that it has a narrator — a skittish guy known only as Man in Chair. Played with adorable humility by John Scherer, Man in Chair wants to share with us his passion for an obscure 1928 musical called “The Drowsy Chaperone.” As he spins the original cast soundtrack album on his turntable, the show comes to vivid life right in his apartment. When two funny gangsters arrive, we’re informed that this is “the interchangeable vaudeville duo The Tall Brothers, John and Peter Tall.” That the Talls are played here by actual brothers Parker and Blakely Slaybaugh, sharing a stage for the first time in their singing/dancing careers, is a neat touch on the part of the Goodspeed.

John Rapson, whom Hartford audiences saw as all the D’Ysquiths in the first national tour of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at The Bushnell, takes on a single role here, that of the loud, loutish lothario Adolpho, and steals many scenes with his over-the-top accent and attitude. Other stand-outs are Ruth Gottschall (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Carol Burnett) as the upperclass yet earthy Mrs. Tottendale, Tim Falter overreacting admirably as George the Best Man, and Jennifer Allen in the title role, played as kind of a cross between Dorothy Parker and Ethel Merman.

As the young lovers at the center of the intentionally laughable plot, Clyde Alves and Stephanie Rothenberg sing and dance divinely, but that’s only the start of what they can do. He roller skates, blindfolded. She, in the showstopping number “Show Off,” twirls a baton, does a knife-tossing stunt, twirls hoops and much more.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” has just the right mix of mockery and mimicry, needling and nostalgia. It knows how to make fun of itself, and so does the Goodspeed.

Director Hunter Foster’s Goodspeed resume is all over the place: he co-wrote “Summer of ’42” and “The Circus in Winter” and directed “A Connecticut Christmas Carol,” which returns for a second season at the Norma Terris in November. He can comfortably dwell in the new-musical camp, but “The Drowsy Chaperone” demonstrates how well he’s done his homework about the old school.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is firmly frothy, confidently cornball. It also has the best tap dancing and vaudevillian comedy since the Goodspeed’s uproarious 2015 production of “Anything Goes,” one of the shows that “Drowsy Chaperone” directly lampoons.

The show does seems alarmingly brief. Generally presented without an intermission, the entire show clocks in at barely two hours, at least half an hour shorter than most musicals.

Surely we could stand for a few more choruses of “Love I Always Lovely” or “I Do, I Do In the Sky.” “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a such a daffy dream, you don’t want to wake up.

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE — music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, directed by Hunter Foster — is at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam, through Nov. 25. Tickets are $29 to $79. 860-873-8668, goodspeed.org.

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