He doesn’t have a stove; only a hot plate. But here’s betting that he has the London cast album of The Hot Mikado, the demo to "Hot September," and the bootleg of "Hot Spot."
He’s Man In Chair, the ultimate musical theater enthusiast, who has a woebegone apartment but doesn’t care-as long as he has his original cast albums. Tonight, he’ll play his favorite: "The Drowsy Chaperone," a 1928 musical about a star who’s retiring to get married, to the consternation of her producer.
Those who know musicals won’t place the title, and for good reason: There was no "Drowsy Chaperone" in 1928. But thank the Lord that there’s The Drowsy Chaperone at the Marquis in 2006. It’s a thoroughly delightful must-see for those who believe that "musical comedy" are indeed the two most glorious words in the English language.
Man In Chair-that’s the only way we know him-plays a two-LP live recording (of a 1928 musical?) and the show comes to life before our eyes. It transforms his drab studio into a gaudy, scenic paradise.
The cast certainly helps. Sutton Foster delights as the star who says she wants to give up the limelight but who’d be in the dark without it. Beth Leavel is delicious as that chaperone who’s drowsy (read: "drunk") and whose motto is "Keep you eyeball on the highball." Danny Burstein is hilarious as a Latin lover who, like bad playwrights, tells but doesn’t show. Eddie Korbich is adorable as the guy who can’t dance when a song begins, but learns quickly and is an expert hoofer by the time the number ends.
Steering it all wonderfully is Bob Martin as Man In Chair. He should: he wrote the book with Don McKellar, to Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison’s tasty pastiche songs. "Accident Waiting To Happen" is among the best, though Foster’s "Show Off" best shows off Casey Nicholaw’s expert direction and choreography.
However incidentally or accidentally, Man In Chair winds up telling us a bit more than he expected about his own life. In the process, we’ll see why many of us gravitate to musical theater. But even theatergoers who don’t know The Man Who Came To Dinner from The Girl Who Came To Supper will be charmed. Better still, young audiences, who grew up on the mammoth dour British musicals and were denied fun and frothy shows, are responding with cheers. The only question is, will they understand the moment where the chorus keeps repeating the same phrase over and over and over again? Kids brought up in a CD age have never had their hearts broken by a broken record.
PETER FILICHIA is a theater critic for the Star-Ledger in Newark. He also writes "Peter Filichia’s Diary" for Theatermania.com. And among his myriad activities, he’s president of the Theatre World Awards.