Filichia Features: The Drowsy Chaperone Goes Junior!

Filichia Features: The Drowsy Chaperone Goes Junior!

By Peter Filichia on August 03, 2018

Could The Drowsy Chaperone possibly appeal to today's kids who've been weaned on pop-rock musicals? How would they take to a score that was intentionally fashioned to be old-fashioned? What about the purposely silly book, corn-fed jokes and onion-skin-paper-thin characters?

Not to worry, as was proved last month when iTheatrics condensed the show into a 55-minute The Drowsy Chaperone JR. They relished meeting that nice guy who's simply named "Man in Chair" and becoming acquainted with his favorite musical: The Drowsy Chaperone, a (fictitious) 1928 hit. Man directly addresses us to say that he'll play the cast album, which comes to life before our eyes and his.

(It's a little Pirandellian: One Character in Search of a Musical.)

The story has Robert Martin about to marry Broadway legend Janet Van De Graaff to the horror of swank producer Mr. Feldzieg. (Switch the syllables of his surname and you'll get the joke.)

If Janet becomes Mrs. Martin, Feldzieg will be less successful if not dead, for two gangsters want to keep the star in shows so that the money will keep rolling in from every side. Showgirl Kitty hopes the hitmen fail so she'll play the lead in Feldzieg's future hits.

The producer hires Latin lover Aldolpho to seduce Janet, who's too busy playing a trick on Robert in order to learn if he's really the marrying kind. The chaperone? She's there to ensure that the bride won't see the groom before the wedding. It all leads to a 20th century deus ex machina where aviatrix Trix and her plane literally drop in.

Yes, a silly book. Yet nearly five dozen teens and tweens had a great time playing or supporting the stalwart Robert, egocentric Janet, drunken Chaperone, vainglorious Aldolpho, ambitious Kitty, paper-tiger Gangsters, ditsy hostess Mrs. Tottendale, best man George, the confident Trix and - of course - the droll Man in Chair.

Actually, that label is sometimes a misnomer. Man does get out of his chair and dances around his living room to the music he loves which - come on, admit it - we've all done.

It's a rare show where virtually every cast member gets a chance to shine: Drowsy, even "juniorized ", does that through solos, duets and big production numbers. Do the show with teens, and you'll see that every character - even Trix -- is for kids.

Despite the inordinate number of featured characters, the show is easy to follow thanks to its first big number. It has everyone come forward and say "I'm" followed by his or her name and identity.

Two songs belie their lyrics. First, "Cold Feets" allows (or causes) Robert and George to do some very hot and fancy footwork. Then "(I Don't Want to) Show Off" has Janet savoring her retirement all the while displaying a fervent need to entertain - down to making music from wine glasses filled with different levels of water and getting a much-earned encore.

One must wonder, though, if iTheatrics director Marty Johnson had to spend much time explaining to the kids exactly what a record is. He probably didn't have to describe the old bell tone that alerted people that a telephone was ringing, for such a sound is an option on all iPhones.

The show needs an aeroplane (as it was often spelled in 1928) which proved no problem to this production. Trix spun a prop propeller attached to a rod; on either side were two large parallel horizontal white panels connected by a few vertical strings. Your choreographer will be asked to teach a tang o for Aldolpho and the Chaperone.

Although the J R edition is less than an hour long, it's almost twice the length of the show's initial production. In 1997, bookwriter Don McKellar and co-composers-lyricists Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison wrote a 30-minute sketch that was performed at a party for the about-to-be-married Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graaff. It went over so well that Martin joined on a s co-librettist and soon was the show's Man in Chair as well. Nine years later, the full-length Drowsy came to Broadway where it won the 2005-06 Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score.

Martin and Van De Graaff may have received such tony wedding gifts as complete sets of china and silver, but the pre-wedding sketch that Lambert, Morrison and McKellar fashioned for them turned out to be the most valuable and Tony-est gift of all!

Drowsy Chaperone JR will certainly be a gift for your students, too!


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