Wedding bells and prohibition

by Emily Woods / Beacon Correspondent • April 10, 2013

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Andrea Sweeney and Conor McKay in the Musical Theatre Society's The Drowsy Chaperone.
Andrea Sweeney and Conor McKay in the Musical Theatre Society's The Drowsy Chaperone.

The musical comedy opens in the small apartment of a Broadway theater fanatic, known to the audience only as Man in Chair. As he reminisces about the glory of old-time Broadway theater, Man suddenly decides to show the audience what he means. He slips on a record from one of his favorite 1920s musicals, and The Drowsy Chaperone begins.

Directed by Nicky Maggio, a junior performing arts major, Musical Theatre Society’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone premiered Tuesday night to a full house in the Greene Theater, and was followed by another sold-out performance the following night.

Centered around a couple on their wedding day leading up to the actual ceremony, The Drowsy Chaperone tells the story of oil tycoon Robert Martin and Broadway star Janet van de Graaf, who gives up her illustrious career as a showgirl to marry a man she barely knows. On the big day, however, the two lovers run into a variety of obstacles — including gangsters disguised as pastry chefs, a Broadway producer desperate to cling on to Janet as his show’s leading girl, and an alcoholic chaperone in the time of prohibition.

The show also functions as a parody of the American musical comedy, and according to Maggio, the tongue-in-cheek humor was part of what attracted him to the script.

“After all of the intellectual-based, method-heavy theater I’ve been a part of, I felt Emerson students really needed something fun and light,” said Maggio. “This show is a perfect balance between laughs and telling a beautiful story.”

To portray the story, a myriad of technical elements assisted in the production. The elaborate studio apartment style set, complete with light blue and red flats, was effective in establishing the nostalgia of the show. 

The design’s authenticity was backed by the show’s leading cast members. Andrea Sweeney and Connor McKay, both freshmen performing arts majors, acted as the two honeymoon hopefuls, Robert and Janet. The pair had believable chemistry and brought unaffected sincerity to their roles, while still portraying heightened versions of themselves in accordance with the parody style of the show.

Sweeney’s big number, “Show Off,” stood out among others, as her character tells reporters she wishes to leave show business, then proceeds to give the flashiest number of the entire score, complete with hula hooping, ribbon twirling, back handsprings, and stunning vocals.

The drowsy chaperone, assigned to keep Janet away from her groom on the wedding day, was played by Abby Woodman, a sophomore performing arts major. She gave a rousing rendition of the show’s unofficial anthem, “As We Stumble Along,” with equal amounts of charm and cynicism, belting out lines such as, “We bumble our way through life’s crazy labyrinth.”

Maggio wrote in his director’s note that he hoped that from watching the show, the audience would adopt a similar mentality as the song’s title mentions, and learn to live life slower.

“We often let a lot of opportunities go by without really stopping and listening,”  said Maggio in the notes. “If you take anything away [from this], I urge you to learn how to let things be what they are.”