"THE DROWSY CHAPERONE" IGNITES THE FAN IN ALL OF US
Everyone has a favorite pastime, and for unnamed protagonist Man In Chair (Noah Bruckshen), it is “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a fictional 1920s musical that he loves inside and out.
Man In Chair, who lives alone in his apartment, is affected by what he dubs a “non-specific sadness.” Not that he seems to mind, however — in fact, he appears quite content as he kicks off the show by reminiscing directly to the audience about the golden age of theater.
He explains that whenever he is feeling blue, he listens to his vinyl record of “The Drowsy Chaperone” — one which he knows everything about, right down to its liner notes. Right off the bat, his witty enthusiasm for the music shines through as confident in spite of his isolated lifestyle.
Man in Chair’s descriptions of the listening experience are as colorful as they are accurate: He puts the album on, referring to the overture a “musical appetizer” and equating the sound of the record static to a time machine starting up. A time machine which, in this case, will be taking him (and the audience) back to New York City circa 1928.
Whether it be through a telephone ringing or a power outage in the apartment, the show gets periodically interrupted in clever ways that force the viewer to remember that it is all a figment of one dedicated fan’s imagination.
An impressive set design captures Man In Chair’s spacious-yet-lived-in apartment, featuring green walls adorned with photographs of various celebrities and other 1920s imagery. Soon, his visualization of the cast materializes in his living room as they introduce themselves by name through song and dance in the opening number, “Fancy Dress.”
The characters take over the apartment, which is also rooted in reality as features like a magnet-cluttered refrigerator remain clearly visible in the background.
Making her grand entrance through that same refrigerator, Camaira Metz shines as Janet Van De Graaff, a famous showgirl with plans to give up life in the spotlight to marry a wealthy oil tycoon named Robert Martin.
Most notable is her song “Show Off,” in which she publicly insists she is done showing off for fans in favor of married life (the line “I don’t wanna change keys no more” being sung at the key change was a particularly nice touch). The piece features a number of high notes, all of which Metz conquers with ease.
Robert (Amin Fuson) serves up a tune about pre-wedding nerves in a jazzy number called “Cold Feets,” building to a dynamic tap dance routine between he and his best man George (Annika Knapp) — a commendable performance by both considering the challenges that come with singing while dancing.
Macall Gordon is amusingly blasé as Drowsy, the alcohol-loving chaperone tasked with maintaining good luck by preventing Janet and Robert from seeing each other before their wedding takes place.
Meanwhile, Bruckshen seamlessly captures the unrelenting enthusiasm of the diehard musical buff. The fourth wall continues to be broken at every turn, and his eagerness quickly turns to irritation when something from the real world breaks the magic of the soundtrack.
The show captures the same tongue-in-cheek hindsight of the 1920s that “Singin’ in the Rain” famously parodied 67 years ago. Along with vaudevillian melodies and exaggerated dance moves, viewers will see staple character tropes including a big-time producer (Bryce West), a wannabe leading lady with a mandatory over-the-top New York accent (Isabel Zyla), a Latin “self-proclaimed ladies man” who enjoys saying his own name (Quinn Krivanek) and even two gangsters under the thinly-veiled guise of pastry chefs (Danny Bracy and J.R. Hoerner).
Man In Chair is sure to resonate with nostalgia fans and old souls alike as he raves about the glory of decades before his own.
At one point, he provides information about the current whereabouts of the surviving cast members, noting that Robert’s actor is “still alive, you know” but with age has declined far past his prime: a reality that is all too true for fans of old actors.
Similarly, he addresses another common dilemma that film and stage enthusiasts may encounter: a lack of information surrounding lovable background characters, which in this case involves a butler named Underling (Jaret Miller) and a hostess named Mrs. Tottendale (Kennedy Clark). “I tried to find out more about them,” Man In Chair says of these lesser-known players.
The musical delves less than expected into the backstory of Man In Chair’s now-lonely living conditions; but perhaps this is a good thing, as this part of the character is left vague enough for any viewer to relate.
Although he has no firsthand knowledge of the actors, Man In Chair has a real knack for describing each of their unique personalities. It’s as if he knows them personally, and they truly are his friends.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” will run for three more performances at the campus theater: May 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. and May 19 at 3 p.m.