Drowsy Chaperone shatters fourth wall
From the moment the lights dimmed, it was clear that The Drowsy Chaperone was not your conventional Broadway musical. The whining voice of the narrator instantly made an impression with his grumbling criticism: “I hate theater. Well, it’s so disappointing, isn’t it?”
These first lines were certainly an unusual way to gain the audience’s favor with any theater production, but it became clear as the story unfolded that the creators of the musical knew exactly what they were doing. With its playful approach to the fourth wall, The Drowsy Chaperone, as portrayed by members of Scotch’n’Soda, celebrated and satirized theater.
The musical, which takes place in the 1920s, describes the tumultuous events leading up to the wedding of Janet Van De Graff, played by senior vocal performance major Caity Pitts, a showgirl who is leaving a career of stardom for what she believes to be true love. A series of amusing and chaotic mishaps, including the neglect of Janet’s drowsy chaperone, reveals the drama and absurdity of the human experience.
However, mere plot description only tells half of the story. Sophomore computer science major Matthew Alsup carried the show impeccably with his portrayal of the character described simply as the Man in Chair, who observes the events of the show from the comfort of a chair in his home, isolated from the rest of the set. This crotchety but passionate character started off the show as a narrator of sorts: By starting and stopping a recording of the show on his record player, he was able to pause and resume the action onstage, as if the show were not a live performance but instead a recorded one.
The humorous and bitter commentary of the Man in Chair continued throughout, and he quickly grew to have a much more important role. Occasionally he stopped the recording to add sardonic remarks, acting as an omniscient voice of sorts, commenting on the characters and events of the musical and showcasing his extensive knowledge of theater. Despite his sarcasm, the Man in Chair had an obvious soft spot in his heart for this musical and he added a personal dimension to the events of the show, alluding to his own bitter romantic history as the audience watched the characters on stage.
This fascinating and surprisingly relatable character would not have been done justice without the outstanding performance of Alsup. Despite the daunting amount of material to memorize, Alsup hardly stuttered, delivering the sharp commentary of the Man in Chair with a comically overdramatic air.
Alsup’s performance was by no means the only outstanding one; the entire show was sprinkled with vibrant characters played by equally vibrant actors. Senior voice major Gillian Hassert excelled as the nonchalant, imperious Drowsy Chaperone. Meanwhile, other characters such as the bumbling Mrs. Tottendale (played by Christine de Carteret, a bachelor of humanities and arts student in history and architecture) and the self-proclaimed Latin lover Adolpho (played by first-year voice major Joel Goodloe) brightened the musical with their hilarious antics.
Beyond the content of the musical, the original creators of the show took the opportunity to make broader commentary about the nature of the theater. At various parts of the show, they made it a point to remind the audience that the musical they were viewing was just a musical — an effect that is the exact opposite of what writers and producers usually try to achieve.
Mostly, this effect occurs through the role of the Man in Chair as a sort of barrier between the characters and the audience: Just as audience members started to empathize with the drama onstage, some unexpected interruption rudely drew them back to reality. At one point, much to the audience’s confusion, the Man in Chair played an entire scene from a very different musical after accidentally selecting the wrong record from its sleeve. In another scene, the Man in Chair’s house lost power just at the culminating dramatic moment of the musical, ruining the mood of the show.
Though at times distracting and confusing, these clever interruptions had an interesting effect. They drew the audience’s attention to the mesmerizing ability of a theater production by repeatedly shattering its illusion of reality. As The Drowsy Chaperone suggests, the magic of a captivating show is enough to make its viewers believe in false characters in a false setting, yet this spell can be broken by something as simple as the sound of a telephone ring.
The Drowsy Chaperone thus engaged its audience in a wide range of ways, with vibrant actors and an amusing tale paired with challenging commentary. This musical, impeccably performed by members of Scotch’n’Soda, captivated viewers with a rich and multilayered production that proved to be much more thoughtful and complex than it at first seemed.