May 7, 2013 Updated: May 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm
This is the story of how a Canadian stag party gift turned into a sleeper hit on Broadway.
In 1997, real-life couple Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graaff were about to get married. As a gift, some of their friends decided to create a spoof of old Broadway musicals for the couple's stag party. It was a hit. Martin and Don McKellar, one of the original writers, were inspired to clean up some of the raunchiness, and turn it into a full-fledged musical production. 'The Drowsy Chaperone ' debuted on Broadway in 2006 and won five Tony Awards. It will open at the Fine Arts Center on Thursday.
'The Drowsy Chaperone ' is a show within a show. When McKellar and Martin rewrote it for the stage, they kept the couple getting married - names and all - and added a narrator named Man in Chair who provides a running commentary for the audience. Martin played the role on Broadway.
The entire musical comedy takes place in the Man's apartment. He's feeling a little blue, he tells the audience, and when that happens, he likes to play his records. In this case, he chooses an old 1928 record of 'The Drowsy Chaperone, ' one of his favorites. As the music begins, his apartment comes alive. Characters come singing and dancing out of the woodwork, oblivious to the Man who joyfully knows their every move and song by heart.
In his 2006 review, New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley wrote: 'And now here is a musical that frankly sets itself up as a short (1 hour, 40 minutes), happy exercise in escapism, adorned with just enough postmodern footnotes to make you feel all insiderly. It's sort of like being able to eat your cake and diet too. '
Scott RC Levy, director of performing arts and producing artistic director at the Fine Arts Center, will star as Man in Chair. It's the actor-director's first role since he moved to the Springs in mid-2011.
'This role is difficult in that I don't really interact with the rest of the company, ' Levy said. 'I'm talking to the audience about the show and about the actors inside the show. The actors can't see me. There are long monologues and a lot of lines and nobody to play against except the audience. '
But Levy clearly relishes the role. During a Friday night rehearsal of the number, 'Bride's Lament, ' he earned laughs from his castmates as he sang and mimed along with Van De Graaff, played by local actress Becca Vourvoulas.
'I love musical theater, probably too much to admit for a straight man, ' he said. 'I listen to soundtracks and have since I was a kid. I'm attracted to musical theater because it's not reality. We don't sing to each other in our daily lives. You can take that suspension of disbelief and fantasy, and believe it's a real world. You can say the same thing about movies. Roger Ebert said a really great film makes you feel like you're watching it for the first time every time you see it. That's the beauty of the arts. '
The show lovingly pokes fun at old musicals, which, in this case, include stereotypes of the 1920s, vaudeville and overblown performances.
'It's in the style of a grand old Broadway musical. It's the golden era of Broadway, ' Levy said. 'It's extremely hilarious. It's great for those who love musical theater, and those who don't. '
Director Cory Moosman, who has directed five other Fine Arts Center musicals and runs WYNOT Radio Theatre with Sammy Gleason, is in his comedic element.
'Dying is easy, comedy is hard, ' Moosman said, repeating the old theater saw. 'It's science. It takes time to stage out bits and movements. So much work goes into making people laugh. I love shows that don't take themselves so seriously. '
And in the words of Man in Chair: 'It does what a musical should do. It takes you to another world. '
Jennifer Mulson may be reached at 636-0270.