A warm glow illuminates the stage, casting a rosy tint on the pink-and-white striped wallpaper. Different sized posters cover the walls and various household items fill the wooden shelves. Dusty couches and tables sit indignantly, as if waiting for the action to begin. And it does: before a single actor takes the stage, an exasperated voice echoes within Kimball Theater, setting the tone of the next 90 minutes with only three words:
“I hate theater.”
The Sinfonicron Light Opera Company’s production of musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” directed by Alex Bulova ’19, has a gritty undercurrent of realism flanking its tall tale of whimsy, love, roller skates, gangsters and ministers. Running Jan. 17 to 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 19 to 20 at 2 p.m. at the Kimball Theater, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is an exciting look into the wedding of Janet Van De Graaf and Robert Martin through the eyes of a man in a chair listening to the musical via his record player.
A colorful cast of characters are in attendance: Mr. Feldzeig, a Broadway producer hoping to steer Janet away from marriage so she can continue starring in his show; a pair of gangsters masquerading as pastry chefs, who are hoping the same but with slightly more violent methods of persuasion; and the flirtatious Aldolpho, who prides himself on his ability to seduce women, to name just a few. The title character — the chaperone, saddled with the task of keeping the bride-to-be from seeing the groom on her wedding day — has an alcohol-riddled yet significant role to play in the turbulent turn of events that unfold from there.
The musical’s eccentric tale is bolstered by strong vocal performances by the entire cast, including Sumie Yotsukura ’22 as Janet, Jeron DuHart Rodriguez ’20 as Aldolpho, Amy Folkerts ’19 as Mrs. Tottendale and Spencer Leibow ’21 as best man George. Fast-paced and witty dance numbers accompany each song, from Robert and George tap dancing and playing patty-cake with their toes to get rid of their “Cold Feet” to Janet channeling all her pomp and splendor to explain to Feldzeig why she no longer wishes to “Show Off” her acting talents onstage. Maddie Sisson ’21 shines as the blasé and easygoing chaperone, carelessly downing sips of alcohol from her personal flask while reassuring everyone that she is perfectly capable of carrying out her duties. Her song “As We Stumble Along” is equal parts drowsy and deliberate.
What sets “The Drowsy Chaperone” apart is its use of the fourth wall through the man in the chair, played by Conor Wilson ’19. The audience watches the events of the musical unfold through the man’s eyes, as he imagines the actors dancing and dreaming onstage while listening to the record of a show he adores, but has never seen. Wilson’s character adds an inventive dynamic to a typical love story: he pauses the narrative sporadically throughout the performance to comment flippantly on the original actors or to critique the over-dramatization of certain scenes; he fast-forwards scenes he deems to be too cheesy; he rewinds the record multiple times to watch repeatedly a scene that has caused him much contemplation over the years.
Sinfonicron’s seamless integration of an outside character into the bubble of a theater production allows for an intriguing layering of storytelling: the audience members experience the lives of Janet and Robert while also learning about the man who is so taken with their story. The man comments in passing that musicals are unrealistic because everything always turns out well by the end of their story, which is never true in real life.
As the audience learns to empathize with the bathrobe-clad man telling them a tale, so too does the man’s connection with “The Drowsy Chaperone” mold and change throughout the musical—and the blocking onstage conveys this complex meaning with mindfulness and purpose. The last lines of the musical leave the audience with a nuanced message about the role of escapism in adoration of any art form, hinting that perhaps the things that we love can have more of an impact than we realize on our lives — so long as we are willing to let them.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” is a charming, soulful and extravagant production that has all the glitz and glamour of the 1920s and yet contains a message that is just as poignant 90 years later. The cast, crew, orchestra and staff work hard to put together a resplendent show packed with musical numbers begging to be hummed even while stumbling along out of the theater and back into the world beyond.