One of the most popular jokes in theater is poking fun at theater itself. Jabs at the flamboyant personalities of actors and quips about the paper-doll personas of old-time parts such as the ditzy blonde wannabe actress or the scheming producers have been the stuff of musicals throughout the ages.
“The Drowsy Chaperone,” the newest production by the adult company of StageDoor Theatre, promises to deliver all this age-old humor and antics wrapped in a thoroughly modern commentary delivered by The Man in the Chair, the show’s lead part.
The show opens with The Man in the Chair (played by Bill Loper, Evergreen High School’s music director emeritus). The Man is a housebound — some would say agoraphobic — theater lover who listens to records of Broadway musicals to transport him to other times and places.
“Bill Loper really is The Man in the Chair,” says co-director Fran Arniotes. “He brought in all his old playbills and records. Bill really does love this stuff as much as The Man in the Chair.”
One might say Loper was destined to play this role. His first encounter with the show was a random ticket-buying foray when he had a few extra hours in New York City before a flight.
“I drove to the theater and bought the ticket without knowing anything about the show. I fell in love with it — the show, the role, the message, all of it,” says Loper.
In the first act, The Man is listening to a recording of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a fictional 1928 musical. The Man’s apartment is quickly transformed into a Broadway set and the madcap world of the musical.
The play-within-a-play tells the story of stage and screen legends Janet van de Graaf and Robert Martin, destined to be together but most assuredly star-crossed as producers, gangsters, mistaken identities and the eponymous Drowsy Chaperone threaten to tear them apart. All the while, The Man offers up his peanut-gallery-esque commentary on the unfolding events, as well as provides bits of long-lost theatrical trivia.
Written in 1997, the show got its start when the composers and librettists put their heads together to write a spoof of old-time musicals for the real-life Janet van de Graaf and Robert Martin. The result was a risqué sketch comedy poking fun at the lives of the theatrical crowd and celebrating jazz musicals from the 1920s to the 1940s. Received with rousing appreciation, the creative team reworked the show for the Toronto Fringe Festival. The real Bob Martin became part of the creative team and created the role of The Man in the Chair to serve as the show’s narrator and commentator. In its new form, the show toured Canada and opened on Broadway in 2006.
StageDoor’s production has all of the pizzazz and sizzle as the original show. The cast of 18 features new talent as well as StageDoor veterans such as Gavin Maurer, Nicholas Maurer, Belinda Parker and StageDoor’s own education director, Lora Haimes.
“It’s been fun to see some of these people out from behind the piano and the curtain, really having a hilarious time in these roles,” says Arniotes.
“This show does exactly what theater is supposed to do. It takes you away to a different time and place. It’s a fun escape to a hilarious world,” says Loper.
The fun continues off stage as well. StageDoor will have a preview of the show (all tickets $12) on Thursday, Feb. 10. On opening night (Feb. 11), StageDoor will host a gala reception. Actress and singer Julie Ballard will sing the best of Gershwin and Cole Porter from 1928, and audiences can enjoy Gibsons, martinis and canapés from the 1920s. For more information, visit www.stagedoortheatre
.org or call 303-886-2819.
Sara Miller, a freelance writer and a resident of Evergreen, lives with her husband, two children and a dog.
‘The Drowsy Chaperone’
Feb. 10-26, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $18 for adults, $14 for students and 60-plus
At StageDoor Theatre, 25797 Conifer Road in Conifer