Whether it’s movies, concerts, sporting events, or plays, everyone has their own form of escapism. Everyone has something they like to attend so they can forget about what’s going on in their lives. It’s healthy to have this, but at what point does the escape become too tempting to ever want to return to the real world? That’s the big question put forth by the musical The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at the Pittsburgh Playhouse (put on by the Point Park Conservatory Theatre Company).
After the lights go down in the theater we hear the voice of the Man in Chair, and eventually the lights come up on his dingy and sparse apartment. He tells the audience about how he likes to put on his favorite records when he’s feeling “blue”, and he finds one of his favorites: the 1928 musical The Drowsy Chaperone. As he starts playing the vinyl the show (through the magic of theater!) comes to life in his apartment. We watch alongside the Man as this cheery old show unfolds, with him providing his own special commentary alongside it.
As the Man in Chair acknowledges, The Drowsy Chaperone is not a good show. “The characters are two-dimensional and the plot is flimsy.” (Incidentally, that description reminds me of last year’s The Boyfriend) The story involves a young couple about to be married but, because of bad luck, don’t want to see each other the day before the wedding (“That’s it.” Says the Man, “That’s the whole plot.”). The groom’s best man and the bride’s chaperone try to keep them from seeing each other, and there are also some gangsters and stage producers and subplots that really don’t matter. Frankly, the show is somewhat annoying. Even the Man in Chair occasionally says “I really hate this scene” or “Just ignore these lyrics.” It’s fun in the way watching a bad movie with your friends is fun.
These stock twenties characters aren’t exciting, but they still get to have their moments. Bland leading man Robert (Jared Thomas Roberts) and blander best friend George (Javier Manente) share a high-energy tap duet because the groom is nervous. The bride/famous stage star Janet Van De Graaff (Brittany Pent) does some impressive singing and dancing, despite claiming she doesn’t want to “Show Off” no more. There are gangsters (Jenry Melhorn and Joshua Schirtzinger) posing as pastry chefs, which is as adorable as it sounds. Latin lover Adolpho (Jeffrey Gorti) is energetic, dramatic, and absolutely impossible to understand. And the titular Drowsy Chaperone (Adriana Milbrath) belts out a rousing anthem even though the story doesn’t call for such emotion. The Man explains that the actress playing the Chaperone insisted on having a big moment in the show. Basically, a lot of things happen for no reason.
While these roles are fun, and the singing and dancing is all strong, this story is really about the Man in Chair (Mason Alexander Park, pictured above). At the beginning he provides hilarious commentary about what’s going on and excitedly dances alongside the ensemble. You think of him as an overly enthusiastic theater queen who is just really obsessed with his shows. As the show goes on, the truth begins to shine through: This man is a shut-in, he’s agoraphobic, and his case of “the sadness” goes deeper than just a quiet night at home. It’s a brilliant role and Mr. Park is fantastic in it. The show is funny for two uninterrupted hours, but more important is how they nail the somber note that it ends on.
The fictitious album The Drowsy Chaperone may be nothing to write home about, but the musical certainly is. Many people, similar to Man in Chair, have expressed opinions that musicals should always be fun and carefree (think Anything Goes or Guys and Dolls). Chaperone gives its audience a carefree musical, but combines it with a harsh dose of reality. The cast and crew have thrown together a fun production that’s sure to get both laughs and make an audience think. And, as Man in Chair would say, isn’t that what musicals are supposed to do?
The Drowsy Chaperone
Directed by Jack Allison and Eileen Grace
Written by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison (music/lyrics) Bob Martin and Don McKellar (Book)
Designed by Britton Mauk (scenery), Joan Markert (costumes), Scott Nelson (lighting), Josh Maywood (sound), Jeff Swensen (photos)
Starring Mason Alexander Park (Man in Chair), Olivia Meyer (Mrs. Tottendale), Conner Gillooly (Underling), Jared Thomas Roberts (Robert Martin), Javier Manente (George), Gabe DeRose (Feldzieg), Katie Marie Jones (Kitty), Henry Melhorn (Gangster #1), Joshua Schirtzinger (Gangster #2), Jeffrey Gorti (Aldolpho), Brittany Pent (Janet Van De Graaff), Adriana Milbrath (The Drowsy Chaperone), Zhanah Wyche (Trix), and ensemble: Jennifer Arfsten, Hannah Fairman, Lauren Garriott, Cameron Mitchell Jackson, Tony II Lorrich, Nikky Robinson, Taylor Warren.