Weekender

State College Community Theatre presents show-within-a-show concept with ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’

State College Community Theatre’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” opens Thursday at The State Theatre in downtown State College.
State College Community Theatre’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” opens Thursday at The State Theatre in downtown State College. Photo provided

State College Community Theatre presents a show within a show as it brings the Tony Award-winning musical comedy “The Drowsy Chaperone” to The State Theatre in downtown State College.

The show opens Thursday and runs through June 19.

Written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and with music by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a parody of American musical comedy of the 1920s. The story concerns a middle-aged, asocial musical theater fan. As he plays the record of his favorite musical, the fictitious 1928 hit “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the show comes to life onstage as he wryly comments on the music, story and actors.

The musical was first produced in 1998 in Toronto. It later received an extended run at Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles before landing on Broadway in 2006, where it ran for nearly 700 performances.

The cast of “The Drowsy Chaperone” features familiar SCCT performers, as well as cast members new to SCCT productions. Cast members include Philip J. Vonada as Man in Chair, Katie Kensinger as Janet Van de Graaff, Mark Bolden as Robert Martin and Ellysa Cahoy as the Drowsy Chaperone. Led by director Seth Sponhouse, the creative team also includes Kat Shondeck, Matt Shaffer, Megan Calon, Amy Sliman and Kimberly Plummer.

The play begins with the lights down low in the house. A man sits in his chair relaxing while putting on his favorite record: the cast recording of his favorite musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

In a matter of seconds, this musical comes to life and plays out before his (and the audience’s) very eyes.

“Mix in two lovers on the eve of their wedding, a bumbling best man, a desperate theater producer, a not-so-bright hostess, two gangsters posing as pastry chefs, a misguided Latin Lothario and an intoxicated chaperone, and you have the ingredients for an evening of madcap delight,” Sponhouse said.

Man in Chair doesn’t seem to interact much with the outside world, preferring the comfort of his apartment and listening to his records with a glass of brandy in his hand. He knows the show and the characters in it so well, that through monologues and interaction with the audience, he brings the 1920s fictional production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” to life in his apartment.

“Man in Chair is a lonely Broadway ‘superfan,’ ” Vonada said. “He interjects stories about the actors playing the characters, and you learn a lot about him, too. He’s a bit of an enigma at times, but he’s totally endearing, and can also be a bit surprising, and overwhelming.”

Cahoy plays the role of the Drowsy Chaperone, Elaine Stritch, an alcohol-soaked work of art and the ultimate time-worn diva, in the style of Liza Minnelli or Judy Garland in her later years.

“I love playing her because she is so over the top in every one of her interactions,” she said. “First and foremost, she’s all about being the center of attention and performing the show stoppers. She’s also an incorrigible drunk, and she is simply there for the martinis and the accolades. She’s an actor’s dream — a completely ‘out of this world,’ wholly dramatic character.”

Vonada thinks his character states best the message being conveyed in “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

“It does what a musical is supposed to do: It takes you to another world. And it gives you a little tune to carry in your head, you know? A little something to help you escape from the dreary horrors of the real world.”

“ ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is a beautiful love letter and an examination of someone’s inner thoughts and loves,” Sponhouse said. “This man that we spend the night with doesn’t have anyone else in his life, and he chooses us — the audience — to open up to. It’s a beautiful thing when you are welcomed into someone’s home, no questions asked, and then shown something that they truly love.”

Cahoy said the show is all about escapism and lasting effect of theater.

It’s a show the whole family can enjoy, Sponhouse said. There is physical comedy and witty banter, as well as innuendos that go over the heads of younger audience members but are there for the adults in the crowd.

“ ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is a show that is pure fun from start to finish — there aren’t many shows like that,” Cahoy said. “This is a very tightly written show that demands a lot from its small cast. I know the audience will be laughing and will lose themselves in the onstage spectacle the moment the show begins.”

State College is full of good quality theater, and “The Drowsy Chaperone” is good quality theater done by actors and production staff members with full-time day jobs, who all share only one thing in common — a love for theater.

“I think the audience will leave feeling uplifted, to have just escaped two hours of the ‘dreary horrors of the real world,’ ” Vonada said.

“I hope the audience purely enjoys every moment of this production,” Cahoy said. “Musical theater is all about joy and escape from everyday life, and that is what we seek to provide with this show. Come see ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ laugh and forget about everything else for a magical afternoon.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: “The Drowsy Chaperone”
  • When: 8 p.m. Thursday, June 17-18, 3 p.m. June 19
  • Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
  • Info: 234-7228, scctonline.org
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