The subtitle for The Drowsy Chaperone is A Musical Within a Comedy. That’s pretty self–explanatory – once you know what you’re getting into, you can sit back and let it wash over you.
When The Drowsy Chaperone was conquering Broadway, back in 2006, audiences found a kindred spirit in the show’s interactive narrator, known only as Man in Chair. He’s a little blue, a little weary of life, and he’s hungry for the gold old days of lavish, silly musical comedies that didn’t require you to think too much.
The Masquers of Armstrong Atlantic State University open The Drowsy Chaperone this weekend in Jenkins Hall, and director Pam Sears says that Man in Chair – of course, he’ll right present and accounted for – breaks the famous fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience.
“His goal is to escape,” Sears says, “but I like it because he’s pro–active. He doesn’t wallow in his misery.
“His medicine is listening to his old records. So he knows what to do, as opposed to feeling sorry for himself. I just find it charming in that he’s not going to let things get him down.”
His record of choice is the cast recording of a jazz–age musical called – what else – The Drowsy Chaperone. As he plays the record, the vintage play springs to glorious, technicolor life around him.
“He has the nerve to say things that a lot of people feel when they’re sitting in a theater, and wouldn’t dare say,” Sears explains. “Not only about what he’s watching, but just about the whole act of sitting in a theater.”
The Drowsy Chaperone was written by Bob Martin and Doug McKellar, with words and music by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. It took home Tonys for its book and score, and four Drama Desk Awards, including one for Outstanding Musical.
In the original Broadway production, Martin himself played Man in Chair. The Australian production featured Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush in the role.
The “show” concerns a vain showgirl named Janet Van De Graff, who’s appearing in the lavish Broadway musical Feldzeig’s Follies. So the song–and–dance numbers are tightly choreographed, the costumes appropriately period, and the storyline packed with mistaken identity, double entendre, oh–so–amusing romantic misunderstandings, spit takes galore, slamming doors and the physical gags of farce.
“It’s a respectful roast of musical theater, specifically from the ‘20s to the ‘40s,” Sears says.
Of course, many (if not all) of the young AASU actors weren’t intimately familiar with this classic form, especially with its rat–a–tat dialogue.
“It’s new for some of them,” says Sears. “There had to be some research, and we had to talk a lot about how it’s very fast. I’m the acting teacher who’s saying now ‘Really, honey, take your time, slow down,’ but in this case, not at all. It’s a very rapid–fire pace. It’s great to have the opportunity to share that style with them.”
She is, however, extremely pleased with the end result. “They’re really embracing it, and they think it’s fantastic, both the Ziegfeld style and the references to shows like Kiss Me Kate.
“And people who have watched musical theater in their lives will sit in the audience and go ‘Ahhh, that feels a lot like (blank).’”
And always, Man in Chair will be there, commenting on the proceedings, addressing the audience with his two cents and, at times, even becoming a character in the musical itself.
“The Man interrupts it consistently,’ Sears points out. “He’ll pull the needle off the record in the middle of a scene. That whole convention is thick within the show.
“The musical within the play is very much a tribute to classic musical theater. But the show spins it on its head.”
The Drowsy Chaperone
Where: AASU Jenkins Hall Theatre, 11935 Abercorn St.
When: At 8 p.m. Oct. 27–29, at 3 p.m. Oct. 30; at 8 p.m. Nov. 3–5, at 3 p.m. Nov. 6
Tickets: $15; various discounts available
Phone: (912) 344–2801