It’s Marla Mindelle’s Wake-Up Call!

There is a yawning divide between good and great musicals, but "The Drowsy Chaperone" needs no one to accompany it to the winner's table; it can go it alone as a great one.

The five-time Tony Award-winning musical — in which "Man in Chair" sets the table for a grand retelling of a 1928 musical called "The Drowsy Chaperone" — was a sleeper hit on Broadway last season.

Now, with the Broadway "Drowsy" in sleep mode — on hold until the stagehands' strike is handled — those in need of a musical wake-up call are at the Academy of Music, where the musical-within-a-muse musters up all that roarin' '20s, along with the mystical millennium to sing a tale of a love that dares not tell its name.

Oh, okay, what's the big deal? Here's its name: "Love of old-fashioned musical theater."

Remember when musicals were joyous and happy, and didn't all sound like Sondheim? When silly is as silly was, and silly-sally was a way to set sail across a nonsensical plot?

Man in Chair does. And he delights in retelling and replaying it thanks to that old 78 slip of a disc he puts on his roundtable.

iPod? Oh, please! High-fives to hi-fi's, when a record was 90 minutes long and not the two-term year of a rapper gone wild.

Marla Mindelle is too young to remember when "Red, Hot and Blue" blistered across Broadway with Ethel Merman. No need to. She's added her own hue to the hot colors, all while just out of college.

Kitty-cad? The 26-year-old '06 grad of the prestigious Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music conserves her energy these days as the ditz on the fritz as Kitty the pretty in "The Drowsy Chaperone," the would-be star who mistakes being the producer's girlfriend for talent that would land her in "The Boy Friend."

No such disillusionment for dis college grad, on stage just a yell away from hometown Yardley. Yell? Well, she does describe herself as a "higher belting version of Sarah Silverman."

"I can just sing higher. Other than that," she deadpans, "we're pretty much the same."

She's as good-looking as the Jewish jokester and talks a good game — thankfully, not with the same vocabulary the volcanic Silverman uses. And she sings even better. But playing the ditz? Smart choice for a smart student of theater: "I would never have considered playing this role, but am certainly thrilled to be doing it. In college, I used to take the motherly roles." Pause. "Or the seductress."

She is seductive on stage, but then, musical theater has had its own lure — and lore — for her.

'Redhead in the Chair'
"I was the young 'Redhead in the Chair,' " she says of growing up in the backyard of her Yardley home listening as "obscure" musicals played on her home stereo.

In a way, it was a household in stereo; her parents, Stephen and Ryta Weiner, shared a love of musicals. But Dad, an investment banker, took it a note higher: "He was a part-time musical composer; in fact, he wrote the score for 'The Hudsucker Proxy,' " for the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Join the club, Marla! The cast list included the daughter in her post-collegiate debut. Indeed, the Weiner gene pool runs deep and sings along swimmingly; that "part-time" work for her dad has netted him many notable off-Broadway productions, awards and huzzahs, as well as the 2000 ASCAP Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award.

And Mom's no one to beg at the musical theater table for "more," either: "My parents met at a production of 'Oliver!' in Arizona," says their daughter.

And Marla met with success at Adath Israel, where she was a Bat Mitzvah. "That training — the Hebrew chanting — helped develop my voice; it definitely added musculature to my voice," she says.

And it added muscle to her sense of mitzvot. Throughout college, Mindelle made it her mission to perform for free at Jewish nursing homes — "We'd do musical reviews" — and also do "community service at the homes."

Now, back home for the run of "Drowsy Chaperone," Marla marvels at her musical luck at getting such a great notable role. She's learned from playing Kitty, but then, can Kitty learn anything from Marla?

"Hmmm," muses Mindelle. "Well, she could learn from my work as a volunteer, packing Passover boxes for the needy."

But then, Kitty would get canned if she did it as she does everything else in life, sighs her offstage observer: "She'd probably wind up putting [treif] in with the boxes."



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