“Drowsy Chaperone” celebrates the joy of musical theatre
At its heart, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a celebration of the euphoria and escapism of any good piece of theater.
On its surface, the 1997 piece pays tribute to a very specific era and a very specific genre. The show revels in the tropes and tunes of musical theater in the 1920s and 30s, a time when theatergoers went mad over slapstick, stock characters and lovelorn romantic ballads. The comedy features the kind of crazed hijinks, slamming doors and whimsical showtunes one would expect from a good Noel Coward romp.
On a deeper level, however, the show penned by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, with music by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, delves into the deeper meaning of musical theater as an art form. The show’s narrator is known simply as “Person in Chair,” a lonely theater-lover who recounts the plot, music and action of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a fictional 1928 musical, from the shelter of a lonely apartment filled with take-out food, Broadway memorabilia and old show tunes in the form of prized vintage vinyls.
This character is the one who summons the mania, exuberance and music of vintage era; The Person in Chair is the one who revels in the style of old Broadway to fight what he calls “a non-specific sadness.”
For the faculty and students in the university’s Bachelor of Music/Music Theater program, that combination of madcap fun and careful character study made “The Drowsy Chaperone” an ideal choice as a piece for the fall semester.
“It really struck a chord with the students. They related it to the loneliness that the pandemic has created. The Person in Chair is very much this hermit who doesn’t go out, who’s listening to records and ordering take-out food,” said Justin Johnson, an instructor with the program who’s directing the fall production. “The show is really about finding the joy of theater, especially for someone who’s feeling lonely.”
With the context of COVID in mind, the joy that the narrator finds in music, laughter and theatrics is even more powerful, Johnson noted. And with the firsthand creative input of the BM/MT students, this production is bound to carry a modern ring, even as the production seeks to pay homage to the nods to the golden era of musical comedy.
“We’re going to be leaning into the musical comedy and the ridiculousness, while also celebrating the history of musical theater,” Johnson said. “It’s a show meant for people who love theater. It’s a show meant to make you laugh a lot.”
“The Drowsy Chaperone” opens on Thursday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Imig Music Building’s Music Theatre.