By Annie Arnone
The lights are off but the voice of a man is heard. “I hate theatre,” he says. “Well it’s so disappointing, isn’t it?”
A light shines on Man in Chair, as he takes stage right, ranting about the flaws within musical theatre. He’s a middle-aged man in slippers and house clothes. Ruffling through his vinyl collection, he grips the record he adores most: The Drowsy Chaperone—a 1928 musical that follows the convoluted love stories of four soon-to-be couples.
After asking the audience whether or not they wanted to listen to it, as he sure as hell did, he sets the vinyl down on his record player. As it begins to spin the audience, and man in chair, are transported to 1928, and the musical itself.
Daniels Spectrum theatre housed the dress rehearsal for the Ryerson musical theatre company’s (RMTC) production of The Drowsy Chaperone, and holy crap it went well.
Over 100 Ryerson members gathered together last summer, rehearsing for Drowsy—a broadway play that Ryerson got the rights to, written by Bob Marin and Don McKellar in 1998, with a plot that shines the light on 1920’s sexual and racial norms, through means of comedy.
The story was told through the narration of Man in Chair — a character audience members are not entirely educated on, in terms of backstory. But they are certain of three things: he’s had an unhappy marriage, he loves musical theatre, and damn, he’s got a thing for the soon-to-be groom and heartthrob, Robert Martin.
Mrs. Tottenham is a bumbling old lady who is to host the wedding, accompanied by a butler who is running short on patience, while attempting to deal with Tottenham’s inability to remember things that happened five seconds ago.
Janet Van de Graaff is a movie starlet, conflicted about whether or she should give up her career as an actress for love. Her number “I don’t wanna show off no more” gives us the answer. She choses love.
The chaperone is indeed drowsy. Her one job is to keep the bride from seeing the groom, however she fails, and drinks too much. But hey, she did admit to the best man—who gave her the role as chaperone—that champagne indeed, makes her drowsy.
Keeping in theme of showing what is wrong with the musical theatre industry, there is a scene where Man in Chair accidentally throws on the wrong musical record, while changing to act two of the play. Instead, he plays an American elocutionist play, featuring dancing Japanese Geishas and a woman who sings “I don’t understand Asians,” as they sing back to her “I don’t understand caucasians.”
Director of the student rendition of drowsy, Braelyn Guppy, explains that as much as she would have loved to remove that scene from the play—for fear of audience members not understanding the parody aspect of it all—she couldn’t. The play doesn’t belong to her, after all.
“Drowsy takes you through making fun of every single thing that is something that you love about musical theatre, but also those things that you’ve never noticed,” she said. “So when they bring that scene in, I think there’s an important statement to make. You watch it and think ‘this is ridiculous’ but then think, ‘oh but that’s not even a joke, this is a very serious problem.’”
She adds that there was no intent of offending the audience throughout that scene.
Guppy previously starred in last years RMTC production of Thoroughly Modern Millie! But decided to take a shot at directing, as she entered her third-year of professional communications.
The cast and crew has been rehearsing and stage designing since September, and have grown as a family since the initial awkward line read they did months ago.
The Drowsy Chaperone will be running from Wednesday, March 8 to March 11 at the Daniels Spectrum Theatre.