‘Drowsy Chaperone’ will amuse, invigorate
Tuesday night at Bridges Auditorium epitomized the musical theater experience.
At the first dress rehearsal for their season finale, Claremont High School theater students attempted to wrest perfection from the chaos of an in-the-works production. They entered stages left and right, sang, pirouetted, listened for cues and occasionally flubbed a line.
Despite the perennial question—“Can we make this happen?”—that looms before the opening of any show, it is clear that the musical, with its spot-on period costumes, elaborate set and dozens of enthusiastic performers, will charm audiences. Performances of “The Drowsy Chaperone” are set for Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m.
The show has an amusing premise. A misanthropic man, who has written off humanity as an unredeemable bother, cherishes one great pleasure in his solitary existence: whimsical musical comedies of the sort that flourished in the 1920s. He places the recording of one of his all-time favorite shows; an imaginary confection called “The Drowsy Chaperone,” on his turntable and magic ensues. The musical, an amalgam of soaring melodies and insipid lyrics, theater clichés and a lot of heart, springs to life, right in his living room. The agoraphobic Man in the Chair addresses the audience throughout in a running commentary.
The show-within-a-show is set on the wedding day of Broadway starlet Janet Van De Graaf and oil tycoon Robert Martin. As is de rigeur in musical comedies, complications ensue, threatening the joy of the happy couple. Broadway producer Feldzieg, famed for his Feldzieg Follies, hopes to dissuade Janet from getting married so she can star in his next production, an aspiration intensified by pressure from 2 gangsters whose boss has invested in the Follies. He deploys the vain actor Adolpho to seduce Janet.
In another case of mistaken identity, Adolpho accidentally seduces Janet’s brassy Chaperone, who has been enlisted to keep the bride and groom apart before the wedding. “Drowsy,” the audience quickly learns, is a euphemism for alcoholic. The cast of characters also includes 2 other unexpected couples, the aging and foggily forgetful Mrs. Tottendale and Underling, her loyal employee. There’s also the airheaded but ambitious flapper Kitty, who manages to snares the hand of Feldzieg.
Yet another tangle ensues when best man George realizes he has forgotten to procure a minister. What the couples to do? The answer is provided by a literal deux ex machina when Trix the Aviatrix, clad in a silver, Amelia Airhart-esque costume, descends from the stage rafters in a bi-plane (an amazing achievement of prop and staging work), ready, as captain of an airship, to help the lovebirds say, “I Do, I Do In the Sky.”
Lizzie Aguirre, a CHS junior who hopes to major in acting when she heads for college, serves as one of the many extras in the extravaganza and is also assistant director of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” She’s been in a number of shows in her time as one of Krista Elhai’s theater students, but this particular musical has left a particularly fond impression.
“I like how it almost makes fun of itself. That’s why it’s funny. You can enjoy the musical along with the commentary of The Man in the Chair,” she said. “It’s definitely slapstick.”
Anyone who has gone to a few CHS productions is used to the high level of talent among the students, and they will certainly be impressed by performances of soprano Mata Barr (Janet), who seems born to play an ingénue but is also capable of flexing some backbone.
As fitting for a shows protagonist, however, it is Hunter Alcones as The Man in the Chair who steals the show. Dressed throughout the show in smoking jacket and slippers, occasionally pausing to pour a drink or to bemoan an interruption such as a ringing phone or a power outage, he pulls off the role of a bitter middle-aged man with panache.
His commentary is a welcome counterpart to the show, and he displays the kind of timing needed to draw laughs. When The Man in the Chair accidentally puts on the recording to a “King and I” doppelganger of a show, a number called “Message from a Nightingale” ensues, with Adolpho playing an emperor singing in pidgin Chinese.
“He’s a man of a million accents, all of them insulting,” The Man wryly notes.
In the end, The Man in the Chair reveals his soft side when he explains why he, and why anyone for that matter, loves a good corny stage show like “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
“It does what a musical should. It takes you to another place—it takes you away from the dreary horrors of the world,” he said.