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The great escape
The Fort Wayne Civic Theater presents The Drowsy Chaperone
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
When you first meet Man In Chair, the unprepossessing narrator of The Drowsy Chaperone, you get the feeling that he’s not much of what you might call a “sharer.” In fact, he never even tells you his name.
But Man In Chair actually does want to share something with you, the audience — his passion for musical theater. When he’s feeling “blue,” Man In Chair reaches for his record collection, and the record he plays for you is his absolute favorite, the soundtrack to an obscure 1928 musical called The Drowsy Chaperone, a play he’s never been able to see, but which has always held a special place in his heart.
The characters and story comes to life in his apartment as he imagines it, and he provides a running commentary on the play and musical theater in general. “He narrates what’s happening to the audience,” says Bob Ahlersmeyer, who plays Man In Chair. “So he goes into the characters, and goes into details on the fictional actors who play the characters.”
“You can see that he’s kind of a shut in emotionally, but through his record collection, he gets to live just a fantastic, glamorous world that he just doesn’t live from day-to-day,” adds Ahlersmeyer, who recently performed in A Few Good Men and The Farnsworth Invention at the Civic. “The music takes him away from ‘the dreary horrors’ of the real world.”
As you might have guessed, there are all kinds of layers going on here. Just to be clear, there is no “real” 1928 musical called The Drowsy Chaperone, and when Man In Chair tells you about the lives of the actors playing these roles… well, the actors and their lives are all made up, too. Everything you’ll see and hear on stage when The Drowsy Chaperone begins its run at the Civic on March 2 was pretty much created in this century.
But also in the interest of clarity… if all these layers sound a little “heady” to you, don’t worry — The Drowsy Chaperone has been praised as being one of the most laugh-out-loud funny musicals to come to play on Broadway in years, as much a comedy as a musical.
Director Phillip Colglazier describes The Drowsy Chaperone as a “musical within a play.” The plot sounds straight out of the 20s and 30s — a fast-paced comedy with marriages, mistaken identity, gangsters, and general silliness. And the music sounds like it’s from that time period, too. “It’s some of that jazz from that era, big sounds with trumpets and trombones,” Colglazier says.
But the real “story” is Man In Chair and his commentary. And the humor, adds Colglazier, is contemporary. “It’s him commenting to the audience on this musical, and comments about musicals and musical theater through this man’s eyes, and how things have changed.”
The Drowsy Chaperone was nominated for 14 Tonys in 2006 and won five. Though it’s a relatively new play, actress Emily Susanne Franklin says the role of lead Janet Van De Graff/Jane Roberts was on her “must play” list. “Those are the roles that we will do regardless of circumstances,” Franklin says. “If a theater is doing it, we will do that show. Janet happens to be on my list.”
Franklin is a professional actress based out of New York, who happens to find herself in Fort Wayne for a bit. During her career, she’s played a lot of what might be called the “best friend” roles. “Those are usually the ones that dance a little bit more, they’re more character-oriented, less the young romantic lead,” she says. “Janet happens to be a leading lady who is quirky, who is comedic. She has a lot of those supporting best friend characteristics within a leading role.”
The comedy of The Drowsy Chaperone is “universal,” says Colglazier. But Ahlersmeyer says that musical theater aficionados in the audience might have an added appreciation for a few of the references. “It’s not a bunch of in-jokes by any means,” he says. “It’s all pretty funny. But I think people that know or have been in theater will get a little bit extra out of it.”
The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents The Drowsy Chaperone
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Saturdays, March 2, 9, and 16 at 8 PM
Sundays, March 3, 10 and 17 at 2 PM
Fridays, March 8 and 15 at 8 PM
Box Office: (260) 424.5220 or online: fwcivic.org