Upon reflection, I'm really not sure why it's taken me so long to attend a show at the Ogunquit Playhouse. It's only a 90-minute drive from Boston, and I find Ogunquit infinitely preferable to Provincetown as far as gay-friendly destinations go.
And yet, somehow, I had never been inside the Ogunquit Playhouse until this past weekend. In its heyday, the self-proclaimed "foremost summer theatre" in America played host to such luminaries as Bette Davis, Joan Fontaine, and Melvyn Douglas. Of course, lately it's had to make do with the likes of Sally Struthers, Rex Smith, and Lorenzo Lamas, but the Ogunquit has nonetheless what appears to be a well-deserved reputation for putting on high-quality productions. (I was, however, rather put off by practice of projecting the names of the theater's corporate sponsors onto the walls of the theater in letters
10-feet high. What's next? Maria von Trapp pausing mid-song to expound upon the virtues of a local B&B? Norma Desmond in a branded neon turban?)
What finally induced me to cross the Ogunquit threshold was a production of one of my favorite shows of the last ten years, The Drowsy Chaperone, this particular version starring Carson Kressley, the fashion maven of "Queer Eye," as the show's central "Man in Chair." I would have given the whole thing a miss, except my dear friend Richard sent me a text saying the production was "outstanding." Well, thank you, Ricky. I'm really glad I made the trek north.
Kressley's program bio doesn't list any previous stage shows, so I'm going to assume that this was his live-theater debut. If so, then bravo, Ms. Kressley. He did have a slight tendency to overuse his hands, and his performance reflected a mere passing familiarity with subtlety, but he was nonetheless funny and effective in his own effusive way. Plus, his presence gave added resonance to certain lines in the show, particularly the following: "At the time, the theater was the only place stupid people could make a living. This was before television."
On the whole, this Drowsy Chaperone represented a thoroughly professional restaging of the original production, using what appeared to be the original sets and costumes, or at least modeled very closely on same. The cast even boasted the delightful Georgia Engel recreating her role as Mrs. Tottendale. The authenticity (slavishness?) of the production is no doubt in large measure due to the presence of Casey Hushion, assistant director on the original production, here recreating both direction and choreography. Hushion captures much of what made the Broadway version infectious and effervescent, and the result here is actually more lively and enjoyable than the show's national tour (read my review), albeit not quite up to the standard of the Broadway production. (Read my original review and my follow-up review.)
Watching this production of The Drowsy Chaperone, I was reminded of what a well crafted show it is, with its warm and witty book (by Bob Martin and Don McKellar) and its tuneful and bouncy score (by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison). This is particularly remarkable considering it was created by a crew of musical theater neophytes. It appears, though, that we may indeed see more from this talented crew, who are currently working on a new musical for the Stratford Festival in Toronto. No word yet on the subject matter or possible time line.