A lonely musical theater fan sits in a chair in his apartment. As he listens to the soundtrack from his favorite musical, he imagines it coming to life, giving him ample opportunity to comment on the story as it unfolds.
That’s the premise behind the Tony Award-winning musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which will open at Spokane Civic Theatre tonight.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” was written by Bob Martin (who originated the Man in Chair role) and Don McKellar, with music by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. When it opened on Broadway in 2006, the New York Times’ Ben Brantley called it a “happy exercise in escapism.” It went on to win five Tonys – Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by a Featured Actress (Beth Leavel), Best Scenic Design and Best Costume Design.
Jean Hardie, who is co-directing and co-choreographing Civic’s production along with Kathie Doyle-Lipe, called “The Drowsy Chaperone” a valentine to musical theater and the people who love it.
“This is a very old-fashioned musical. Everything turns out right,” she said. “It’s not ‘Sweeney Todd.’ It’s not ‘Next to Normal.’ It’s ‘The Drowsy Chaperone.’ … The man cherishes this musical for that very reason – it’s not like life.”
The pretend musical within the play is set in 1928, which translates into much fun in the costuming department, Hardie said.
“Costuming was fun. A little more fanciful that we otherwise would have done, because it comes from his imagination,” Hardie said. “The colors are very bright. We have wigs and funny facial hair and all kinds of crazy things.”
At Civic, the role of Man in Chair is being played by Thomas Heppler, who played Scrooge in Civic’s “A Christmas Carol.” Hardie said Heppler came into the auditions with a real feel for the character.
“He certainly is a fan of musical theater,” Hardie said. “And he just fit it. He really seemed to understand what the character was about.”
What makes “The Drowsy Chaperone” a “unique piece of theater” is that it’s constrained to one location – the man’s apartment – and stems from his imagination, she said.
“It’s kind of a miniature music box of a musical. It still has all the things that a big musical has – the music, the dancing, the lovers …”
Most of all, Hardie said, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a musical comedy with a lot of heart.
“It’s funny. It’s really funny,” she said, “so people can expect to be really entertained.”