by Roger Walk
When Christie Jackson in a leading role of “The Drowsy Chaperone” sings “I don’t want to show off no more!” she and the company on the intimate stage of the now reopened Historic Swift Creek Mills Theater are about to prove to be wrong about that.
She and everybody else involved in the ambitious production of this parody of American musical comedy of the 1920s demonstrate to an enthusiastic audience that the local theater can convincingly bring Broadway to our doorstep.
The new production directed by Tom Width, with musical direction by Paul Deiss, and choreography by Dennis Clark involves 17 singing and dancing actors and an eight-piece live orchestra.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” was the first performance when the 48-year old professional theater reopened on November 7 after a six-month renovation and extension period. The second-floor theater, that now can accommodate an audience of 200, was upgraded with an elevator for wheelchair access, improved amenities, lighting and sound system. Also the kitchen that serves the 220 seat restaurant was rebuilt. The restaurant, now on two floors, enhances the theater experience with its Virginia-style buffet and theater arrangements.
The theater at the most southern corner of Chesterfield County bordering the scenic Swift Creek is set up in a 350-year-old historic building. Magan Davis, director of sales of the theater, pointed to the now brick-covered cracks in the walls that were battered during the Civil War battle that raged around it in 1864, when general Butler’s Army of the James attempted to cross the creek.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” (book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) offers a series of singing and dance numbers that are held together by a story narrated by a “man in chair,” who sometimes gets involved in the dynamic action.
He raves about the musical he loves so much and plays over and over again on his record player from an old LP set. As he plays the records, the musical comes to life, only disrupted or deranged by on set telephone calls (not cell phones in the audience), a power outage, a record mix-up and so forth.
The production that benefits from the improved stage lighting and sound reproduction is great fun and keeps the audience very entertained. Probably inspired by the helicopter brought on stage in many “Miss Saigon” productions, Tom Width manages to place a spectacular moving airplane center stage.
The local actors, several returning from previous productions at the theater, put great talent and skills on display. Dan Stackhouse in the role of the groom demonstrates his pleasant and natural voice. Nicole Oberleitner creates an eccentric drowsy chaperone, and Christie Jackson a convincingly confused bride.
Others in the cast, such as Jacqueline Jones, Steve King, Georgia Rogers Farmer and Matt Shofner, bring their funny roles wholeheartedly to life so that “The Drowsy Chaperone” in Chesterfield feels like Broadway at our doorstep.