‘Drowsy Chaperone’ like theatrical ‘candy’

Freshman Christian Probst’s ’16 first theater performance at Yale is uniquely challenging.

“We’ve noticed that for many of the songs in the show I have a physical impediment,” he said. “For one number I’m tap-dancing, for one I have a blindfold and roller-skates on and for another I wear a monkey mask.”

Such vitality distinguishes the Dramat’s Fall Mainstage production, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” In a marked step away from previous year’s Mainstage selections, which include “Sweeney Todd” and “Rent,” the Dramat sought to dazzle audiences with a musical that is “all-around silliness,” according to director Michael Schwartz, who the Dramat recruited from outside Yale to put up its largest production of the year. A parody of a 1920s screwball comedy, “The Drowsy Chaperone” debuted in 1998 and won five Tony awards for its 2006 Broadway production, including those for Best Score and Best Book of a Musical.

“It’s almost like a magic trick, because there is so much to keep you entertained,” Schwartz said. “There are laughs every minute, bright colors and a very melodic score. Yet simultaneous to all this candy, there is a great complexity to the piece, both in its structure and in its emotional journey.”

“The Drowsy Chaperone” features as its narrator an eccentric, middle-aged musical theater fan known simply to audiences as “Man in Chair,” played by Ryan Bowers ’14. When Man in Chair plays a rare recording of the fictional 1928 musical “The Drowsy Chaperone” in his living room, the show fantastically materializes in his own home, enabling him to provide a running commentary on its plot, songs and characters.

“We had this opportunity to do this big dance show that’s fun, hilarious, crazy and completely ridiculous,” producer Emma Hills ’14 said. “There is an entire scene which is just spit-take after spit-take after spit-take and an entire song which has this motif of monkeys. It just needs people who really love theater doing it.”

For Hills, the potential to put on what has been touted as a “love letter to musical theater” was an important reason behind the choice of “The Drowsy Chaperone” from the list of 100 proposed shows. Sara Hendel ’14, who plays the eponymous Drowsy Chaperone, said the musical’s mockery of older theatrical productions allows it to adopt an “over-the-top” slapstick sense of humor that was common at that time.

Hendel, who also acted in the 2010 Fall Mainstage “Rent,” added that while “The Drowsy Chaperone” is less well-known than other musicals selected by the Dramat, it offers a uniquely introspective look at the art form of musical theater by simultaneously laughing at how silly musicals can be and causing the cast and audience to appreciate them even more.

“It’s not a drama, so it’s not going to be as deep and thoughtful, but it’s still a human piece and it’s about what one can share with a piece of art,” Hendel said.

Though the Dramat has largely remained faithful to the original script, Schwartz said he feels certain references will be particularly pertinent to the Yale audience.

“I tried very hard to get President Levin to make a photo-cameo as an older version of one of the characters, but alas my powers of persuasion were unsuccessful,” he said. “But yes, there are certainly a few Easter eggs throughout the show that Yalies and New Yorkers will pick up on.”

Schwartz said he is excited to see the many theatrical elements — and over 130 students — involved in such a flamboyant production come together, especially given the creative freedom inherent in each role.

Three students interviewed on campus said they are excited for the upcoming performance. Megan Toon ’16 said she is looking forward to the opportunity to see such an upbeat musical comedy.

“I heard about it through a friend who’s in the production, and it sounds very different to anything that Yale’s done before,” she said. “I’m really excited to give it a go and see the audience’s reaction to what could be a new experience for Yale.”

“The Drowsy Chaperone” runs Wednesday through Saturday at the University Theater, with evening performances at 8 p.m. Saturday will also feature a 2 p.m. matinee.

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