Theater Review: The Drowsy Chaperone at Swift Creek Mill
All photos via Swift Creek Mill: Evan Nasteff (Gangster #2), Nicole Oberleitner (The Drowsy Chaperone), Georgia Rogers Farmer (Kitty), Matt Shofner (Aldolpho), David Janeski (Gangster #1)
There is certainly a wealth of talent in our fair city, but it seems like we fear venturing beyond the limits of RVA to take in a show.
I’m here to tell you your new priority should be piling your butts into the car and heading down to Colonial Heights for some Off-Broadway magic with Swift Creek Mill‘s ‘The Drowsy Chaperone.’ This two-hour Musical is just what the doctor ordered for the long-standing theatre’s grand reopening. Stepping into the cozy upstairs auditorium reminded me of seeing ‘Stomp’ at the Orpheum in NYC’s East Village.
A gorgeous and meticulously manicured set greets you with the warmth of your best friend’s apartment on the first night of winter. The walls are adorned with framed playbills and kitschy posters including David Cassidy and le Cage Aux Foilles.
Director Tom Width doubled as the Scenic Designer for this gem, and he did NOT disappoint. We saw few set transitions and the most brilliant use of a Murphy bed I have ever seen! Maura Lynch Cravey’s immaculate costumes are deliciously bathed in the impeccable lighting designed by Broadway Boy Wonder Joe Doran.
Nicole Oberleitner (The Drowsy Chaperone), Matt Shofner (Aldolpho)
One of the biggest renovations in the theatre was focused on rewiring and setting the lights (Including six MILES of wire for the lights alone). At its proscenium, the ceiling only hits a peak of eleven feet, so saying that Doran worked miracles with his lighting in such a confined space is a gross understatement.
Musical Director Paul Deiss is set off with an odd disadvantage from the get-go… The orchestra ‘pit’ is behind the stage. This is also a disadvantage for the actors considering they have zero visual clues for tempo. Unfortunately this was blindingly apparent in the second musical number of the night. ‘Cold Feets’ fell flat on its face within the first 30 seconds. A tremendously lagging tempo lent itself to warbled vocals and painful tap dancing. Being a choreographer myself, I am admittedly a bit more critical of choreography and execution, but this little number should have been a soft-shoe piece.
An obvious lack of tap training leaves the performers tiptoeing between embarrassing awkwardness and endearing buffoonery, which in the end just doesn’t cut the mustard. But there is one incredible exception – Underling. Played by Steve King, this number cranks out a string of technically superb pull-backs that would have made Gregory Hines giggle like a school girl.
The cast is a triumph, the only thing the cast could possibly be missing is Scott Wichmann… just because he’s great in everything. It’s a comedic musical so it should be no surprise that the show is full of broadly drawn characters, but when Trix made her scenery chewing entrances I couldn’t decide if I needed a Xanax or if I should offer her one.
Richard Koch (Man In Chair)
“I do, I do in the sky” is saved by three adorable members of the ensemble pretending to be clouds. Matt Shofner’s Aldolpho is a premium blend of Borat, Eddie Izzard, and Martin Short’s character Frånk from Father of the Bride. Christie Jackson channels a Disney princess in her portrayal of leading lady Janet Van deGraff, but don’t get it twisted, this lady ROCKS the stage. Georgia Rogers Farmer plays a ditzy actress named Kitty, but her choice to mimic Jean Hagen’s Oscar Nominated role of Lina Lamont from ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ was a let down. Not that it wasn’t a great performance, I just felt like it was too easy.
On to the thoroughbreds! Richard Koch’s Man in Chair and Nicole Oberleitner’s Drowsy Chaperone are absolutely nothing shy of perfection. Koch is the most congenial actor I have ever witnessed on stage. I think every member of the audience wanted to hug him. Oberleitner owned every bit of theatrical real estate in the house. She wins. Hands down. Anybody interested in acting in theater should watch this woman work, and TAKE NOTES! I could go on forever about how amazing this show is, but it think it’s best if I quit while I’m ahead and leave you with this:
This show runs through the month of December, and you need to see it. Period. It’ll leave you anything but blue.
Xtina Fitch is the Founder, Director, and Choreographer of XF Company of Dance. She studied Engineering and Mathematics at N.C. State University. She has been teaching dance professionally and Bar-tending in RVA for more than a decade, and is thrilled to join the GayRVA team!
“Its really just hometown Americana and I think that plays well for us.”March 26, 2015
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