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Thursday, March 23, 2006


Shows come and go on Broadway -- some are meaningful and stick with you, some (many) are easily forgettable. As with film or TV, it isn't always the show that sticks out and makes an impression but the actors who embody the characters. In some cases, unsuccessful or semi-successful shows have prolonged their Broadway runs due in part to the "star power" attached to their respective shows.

Broadway producers and bookers I'm sure were counting on the star power of the name Sutton Foster when Little Women opened in January 2005 at the Virginia Theater. Following Foster's success (including a Tony win with Thoroughly Modern Millie) producers were likely banking on her name recognition to sell tickets as she got top billing on the theater marquee (above entertainment vet Maureen McGovern). Though the show didn't last long on Broadway, the Tony nominating committee recognized the quality of Foster's work when they honored her with a nomination for her role of Jo in Little Women (the only nod the show received). Though Little Women was less than stellar, it was Foster who stole the show and who I believe kept it afloat for the entire 5 months it ran on Broadway.

Foster's portrayal of the independent, head-strong Jo seemed like a great follow-up after her Thoroughly Modern Millie success. Unfortunately, Little Women was a poor musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel. The show was a little too saccharine-y for my taste while echoing the melodies of a well known Disney musical about a beauty and a beast. It was (I believe) only when Foster appeared on stage that the audience felt the heart and true meaning of the show. Each moment on stage, Foster gave her audience more and more of a reason to believe in her character -- her energy and enthusiasm was infectious which was evident from the first row of the orchestra to the very last row of the balcony. Though nobody in their right mind can (or should) claim Little Women as a true stand-out quality musical, what can be said is that Foster's performance was the one thing not to be missed.

Seeing Foster in Little Women was honestly one of the most memorable nights I've spent in the theater but this is only because of her work. Having seen her perform just once I knew if the opportunity ever presented itself again, I could not miss it. Imagine my delight the day I found out Foster was cast in the L.A. out-of-town try-out for The Drowsy Chaperone. "Ecstatic" would be the word used to describe my feelings. I am sad to say that ecstasy soon turned to disappointment.

Let it be known that I will never be able to say enough great things about Foster except for her choice of taking on the role of Janet in the The Drowsy Chaperone. I saw The Drowsy Chaperone towards the end of it's L.A. run at the Ahmanson Theatre and it was as the title says, at best, a drowsy experience. As I sat impatiently for the 90 minutes of the non-sensical show, I couldn't figure out why any of these actors (Foster in particular) wanted to be in it.

On paper, the show sounds great -- The Drowsy Chaperone is essentially a musical about musicals (not to be confused with The Musical of Musicals THE MUSICAL) PERFECT for any true musical theatre-phile. The website's description of the show even states that is an entertaining show and "if you've ever sat in a darkened theater thinking 'Dear Lord in Heaven, please let it be good' this is the show for you" but my question is...did the person who wrote this (I realize the quote came from within the show) ever really see said show? I hate to say this, but The Drowsy Chaperone boasts of winning 5 Drama Critics Circle Awards, but really, in L.A., we don't actually get a whole lot of great theater here, therefore what kind of choice did voters really have?

Foster is really the only reason I went to see The Drowsy Chaperone and even she couldn't save it. Maybe it was an "off" night for her, but even Foster didn't seem very "into" her character. Was she having an off nite or was the show just bad? It's hard to say. I am very interested to see the fate of the show after it opens, April 3 at the Marquis Theatre in New York (the same theater where Thoroughly Modern Millie played). Producers/accountants and the like must be pretty thrilled to have someone of Foster's caliber attached to the show because if it weren't for her, I suspect the show could be one of those short-lived Broadway statistics. Will she be able to keep the show going? More importantly, will it have a longer life than Little Women?

In theory, The Drowsy Chaperone looks like a great idea -- the story sounds intriguing, the sets are interesting, the costumes look phenomenal but after that, what really does the show have to offer? Decent talent? I suppose. A great book? Hardly. Catchy (or even memorable) melodies? I can't remember a one and nothing, not even a set of lyrics really stuck with me.

The best thing I can say about The Drowsy Chaperone is that they have a quite a nice website. Truly it is a great marketing/publicity tool. The site is colorful, informative and fun! Heck, going to the site would have even made ME want to see the show had I not known better. Good marketing & publicity is only one of the important elements in delivering a successful product. In the end though, the product must speak for itself.

It will be interesting to see how The Drowsy Chaperone fares as the new Broadway season approaches. Will the casting of Sutton Foster be enough of a draw to make the show successful? Only time will tell...


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