OK, so you know the song ‘Show Off’ from The Drowsy Chaperone, and you’ve repeatedly watched the fabulous clip on YouTube featuring Sutton Foster, but what else do you know about the show that won the 2006 Tony for Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical?
BLOC Music Theatre are completing the final week of preparation for their November 4th-6th season of Drowsy. The creative team and cast have spent the last few months exploring this unusual take on the ‘show within a show’ premise.
“The biggest challenge is being true to the piece, not making it a parody (or a send up)”, says director Carly Macdonald. “I watched lots of clips and read lots of interviews with the writers (Bob Martin, in particular), to get to know the journey of the show, and to understand the development process and their intentions”.
The writing team of Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison (music and lyrics), and Bob Martin and Don McKellar (book) employed two ingenious devices in the creation of the piece: the lead character of Man In Chair, and the faux musical from 1928 of Gable and Stein’s ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’. As Man in Chair shares with the audience his love of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’, we see the musical come to life in his apartment as he shares titbits about the 1928 actors who play the roles in the show.
Macdonald continues, “I was very aware of needing to present Gable and Stein’s ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ accurately within Man in Chair’s version. I often reminded myself, the cast, and creative team, we are presenting a pastiche a loving homage to early musicals. The concept of ‘my’ actors playing actors, playing actors has been challenging but delightful, and such a fun tool to experiment with”.
Each person in the production, both onstage and off, came to the show with varying levels of familiarity with the material. Like many of us, Sarah Wood (who portrays Janet van de Graaff) knew of the song ‘Show Off” – she had performed it as a part of her VCE Music Performance exam when in high school, so when the opportunity came up to audition for the role, she jumped at it. “I loved that Carly Macdonald was going to be directing it. I worked with her on Narnia (also with BLOC) when I was a junior performer, and she is just such a wonderful person and an amazing role model”.
Having first worked with BLOC in as Brigitta in The Sound of Music, and subsequently appeared in the BLOC Junior shows (Mrs Beaver in Narnia, and Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland), Wood is relishing the challenges of her first lead role in a BLOC senior show. Reflecting on her preparation for Janet, Wood began with finding out about the time period of the ‘show within the show’.“I researched the 1920’s era and found out about the female actresses, what was popular for females to wear, and how younger females were perceived in that time. The discovery of character has been a welcome challenge, as there are many layers to each character in this show, and it took me a while to get my head around how to display all these elements whilst performing”.
The tight knit cast of 20 is “hard working and dedicated”, says Macdonald, “and always trying to make things better and work towards the vision I’ve presented”. Wood’s last show was Mary Poppins with BLOC where the cast was huge by comparison, but she says that hasn’t made the experience of the show any different. “I’ve loved working on The Drowsy Chaperone and really getting to know everyone along the way. I love the positive environment at BLOC and the amazing friendships you are able to make”.
Both Wood and Macdonald have far too many favorite moments within the show to be able to cite a personal highlight. That said, Wood is quick to praise one of her fellow cast member – “I love watching Beth McKee, who plays Kitty. She does the most hilarious things onstage in the background”.
When BLOC proposed to stage The Drowsy Chaperone, it was with the intention providing chances for personnel to step up to new roles. Macdonald was attracted to “the opportunity to ‘cut my teeth’ on a more senior production with BLOC after working in many assistant roles, and previously directing a junior show – it is still a huge jump to a major production”. The work also resonates with the director: “ ‘A little something to carry with you when you are feeling blue’, that’s how the Man in Chair feels about his favourite show. The idea that theatre is an escape from the dreary horrors of the real world. His commentary is frighteningly poignant for me personally but also a message for society about the importance of art (theatre), and the release it provides individuals and communities”.
The Man in Chair describes Gable and Stein’s ‘The Drowsy Chaperone” with the words from the back of the record cover – “mix ups, mayhem, and a gay wedding…of course, the phrase gay wedding has a different meaning now, but back then it meant fun”.
“And that’s just what this show is – fun”.
Macdonald sums it up as a “show within a show with lots of laughs, with subtle, gentle reflection elements about human nature and passionate people”.
BLOC’s season of The Drowsy Chaperone runs from Friday November 4th until Sunday November 6th. Tickets are available from www.blocmusictheatre.com.au