I thoroughly enjoyed the RPI Players’ most recent production. The Drowsy Chaperone is a loving, if irreverent, musical sendup of Broadway shows of old. Featuring a variety of musical and dance numbers, a zany plot, a biting commentary on the current stage of life, as well as a sentimental ending, The Drowsy Chaperone is a $5 investment you won’t regret.
Narrated by an older man known only as “Man in Chair” (excellently portrayed by Ethan Henkler ’12) as he reminisces on his life and love of the theatre, the show takes place entirely in his rundown apartment. Gradually, his kitchen transforms into the set of the Man in Chair’s favourite show, The Drowsy Chaperone. It is a show within a show, unafraid to poke fun at both the genre and itself. From the very beginning, the fourth wall is not just broken, but smashed.
The show opens with a lengthy monologue from the Man in Chair as the audience sits in the dark, lamenting the fact that theatre these days is nothing like it used to be. As the lights rise, he bustles around his apartment decorated with theatre memorabilia, chatting with the audience and regaling them with obscure theatre-related facts before finally settling into his chair and selecting his favourite record to play on, yes, a record player. Within the show, The Drowsy Chaperone is a musical from 1928 or so. As the record begins, the show bursts out onto the stage, with actors pouring out of the doors, the windows, the closets, and even the refrigerator, turning the apartment into the set of The Drowsy Chaperone in the ’20s.
It is the day of a wedding between flighty stage actress Janet and oil tycoon Robert, who are apparently being hosted at the house of the elderly and ditzy Mrs. Tottendale. The cast begins to introduce themselves in the opening number, ranging from George, the forgetful best man in the wedding, to stereotypical European lover Adolpho, the pilot Trix (“You’ll see me at the end,” she sings, stepping back offstage promptly), and the Drowsy Chaperone of the title. (Drowsy, if you were wondering, is apparently another word for drunk.) The Man in Chair wanders in and out of scenes, sometimes pausing them to offer a tidbit of advice or talk about his own life experiences.
The set is simple but well-constructed, and every part of it is used to the fullest. For example, the liquor cabinet, when wheeled around, opens into a painted garden background for an outdoors scene; a dramatic blue moon drops out of the sky to portray a night scene, even though the scene takes place in broad daylight. Director Frank Leavitt made the decision to keep the action entirely in the Man in Chair’s apartment, commenting that this differed from most productions, which put him and his chair in the scene of the show itself.
The show also features an extensive amount of dancing, which is very impressive for any Players show. In the song “Cold Feets,” Matthew Dembling and Patrick Kessler ’12 perform a rollicking tap dance routine. While neither are trained dancers, they do a very nice job. The big ensemble numbers, such as “Toledo Surprise” at the end of Act 1, also feature joyful and impressive dancing from all, including some humor to remind the audience that the scenes actually take place in the Man in Chair’s imagination.
The musical numbers are meant to be corny, and they succeed; but they are catchy. Joshua Palagyi in particular does a fantastic job playing the over-the-top Adolpho, and hides a deep, rich voice somewhere in his flashy silk cape. The sound mixing could have been better in parts, as some characters’ mics were much too loud, while others could not muster the volume to be heard when they hit the high notes. Samantha Malanche ’12, as the Chaperone, had great stage presence and was especially excellent at glowering impressively. The band also performed well, featuring a strong mix of students and professionals.
The Players did a great job with the spring musical, and a highly recommend you see it, given the chance. The Drowsy Chaperone is showing at the RPI Playhouse, running Thursday–Saturday at 8 pm each night; tickets cost $5 with RPI ID.