Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Drowsy Chaperone opens this weekend

Iowa City - We asked Jen Gerbyshak, Publicity Writer for ICCT, to tell us about their next production, The Drowsy Chaperone by Bob Martin and Don McKellar. If the show is half as entertaining as Jen's description, we're in for a real treat. Take it away, Jen...

The Drowsy Chaperone? I’ve never heard of that—what’s it about?”

Without fail, every time I’ve mentioned my upcoming play to one of my coworkers, church family, or fellow volunteers, that’s the response I’ve gotten. They know me—know I’m an entertaining sort of person—so they ask it with some interest, trusting that I’m going to invite them to an evening of true entertainment. But the first response is always, “I’ve never heard of it.” So I’ve come up with the perfect reply:

The Drowsy Chaperone is the funniest show you’ve never heard of.

And that is a pure fact. First produced in Toronto in 1998, this show was carefully constructed by writers Bob Martin and Don McKellar to keep the audience laughing as hard as possible for as long as possible without actually passing out from asphyxiation. It runs only about an hour and fifteen minutes, but in that time, there are more quips, sight-gags, satirical jibes, puns and parody than you can shake a shtick at.

The performance begins with a man making dinner. We never do find out what his name is; his official designation in the script is Man in Chair. He wanders about the set, his apartment, and finally settles down in a seat in the audience and delivers the first line that will set the tone for the entire show: “I hate theater.”

Man in Chair is increasingly and delectably neurotic throughout the show as he ushers the audience through a recording of his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, which is a spoof of all the Broadway classics. Like bonus commentary on a DVD, Man in Chair gives us insider information on the ‘actors’, ‘production’ and ‘plot’ (and I do use the term loosely) of The Drowsy Chaperone, and as he does so, the action comes to life right there in his living room.

Everything you could hope for from a parody of Broadway’s Golden Age is there: highly unlikely romance, random song-and-dance numbers, mile-wide plot holes, straw-man antagonists, sweeping stereotypes, and impossibly convenient resolutions. But there’s more. Subtitled ‘a musical-within-a-play’, Drowsy is actually a parody-within-a-satire, with layers of comedy so brilliantly written that you’ll want to come back, and bring a friend.

But for all its wry, self-deprecating humor, this show is really about love. Not the fairy-tale, flash-in-the-pan passion of story and song, but the love of old companions who have seen us through our bluest moments. It’s picking up The Hobbit on a cold winter’s night. It’s putting on that Beatles CD for the five thousandth time because you had a fight with your boyfriend. A pure, simple affection which never disappoints because its object remains—or has always been—in your imagination.

Drowsy’s young cast does not disappoint, either. Far from being intimidated by the technical challenges that the production poses, they execute their demanding roles with the kind of verve that legendary farce is made of. They play off each other like a game of racquetball, they dance with gusto, and they have pipes. The sheer sound the ensemble creates during some of the full-chorus numbers is nothing short of jaw-dropping. And they need every ounce of energy to execute the blocking and choreography put together by director Ben Bentler and choreographer Jill Beardsley, the pair who engineered ICCT’s astonishing production of Wonderful Town last spring. Bentler and Beardsley are masters of spectacle, and the zaniness of The Drowsy Chaperone is a perfect vehicle for their combined artistic vision.

And an infinitely entertaining evening out. Man in Chair sums it up best this way: “Musicals are supposed to be fun, and that’s what this show is: fun.” Don’t miss out on it!

The show runs April 29th-May 1st and May 6th-8th. Friday and Saturday night performances will start at 7:30, Sunday matinees at 2:00. For tickets, visit West Music in Coralville or the Robert A. Lee Recreation Center in downtown Iowa City, or purchase your tickets online.

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