With the recent release of the rights to produce The Drowsy Chaperone, the classically-styled musical is quickly making the rounds through the Colorado theater circuit. Two separate productions are opening today: one produced by Creede Repertory Theater and one produced by Vintage Theater in Aurora. Using charm and genuine love of musical theater to tear down the fourth wall, the narrator of the show, ambiguously known as ‘the man in the chair’, introduces the audience to his favorite musical of all time (the fictional) The Drowsy Chaperone. The rest of the characters complete the plot of the fictional 1928 musical that has all of the quaint, escapist charm that Golden Era musicals perfected with a quick, witty, modern sensibility.
The Drowsy Chaperone (that is to say the show-within-the-show) centers around a young couple, leaving the bride-to-be’s Chaperone as a comic counterpoint, with as many dry remarks as dry martinis in her hand. This more biting, cynical role is a nod to the mature Broadway Divas of the 20s and 30s. For Jodi Brinkman, who plays the titular chaperone at Vintage, the character is in her comfort zone, although not squarely in line with her vision when she first saw the show on tour. ” I wanted to play Janet when I first saw it, mostly because I thought I was too young for the Drowsy role,” she says. “I have played mostly vampy roles, like Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Kate in the The Wild Party, and Petra in A Little Night Music. I think of Drowsy being Sally all grown up. I have played a few sweet roles, but they’re never my favorite!”
For Lisa-Marie Newton, whose play the same role at Creede Rep, “It has been a challenge to be this self-involved. I feel more comfortable supporting other people, and Drowsy doesn’t do that. If anything, she will take focus from other people.” Compared to Newton’s usual roles, and her own personality, it couldn’t be more of a contrast. “I played Sara Jane Moore last summer in “Assassins,” who is homely, clumsy and unsure of herself, and I felt much more at home with her. But I LOVE a challenge, and these 2 weeks of rehearsal have been a fantastic learning experience for me. Jessica (Jackson, the director) is very kindly and patiently nudging me into places I haven’t been before.”
Performing in any musical in Colorado is a bit of a challenge — especially to those unaccustomed to the altitude and dryness. Brinkman has East Coast roots, and so she has a number of tricks to keep in good vocal health. “You name it, I’ve tried it!” she says. “The dryness is very difficult at times in the nose and throat. I use a humidifier in the winter time. I drink a lot of water. I also use a netti pot every morning, as well as drink throat coat teas, lozenges, and sprays.” Newton, who drove out here from San Francisco, had a much more recent acclimation experience. “…the best thing I did was move gradually from sea level to 8,852 ft. I spent an entire week with my parents (in Durango) at 7,500 ft, and tried to do a lot of exercise to help acclimate myself… There is a big dance number in “Drowsy” that is still a challenge – breath-wise – for all of us. We were rehearsing it the other day, and because there was no applause, all you could hear after the dance was heavy panting of everyone on stage.”
The two productions are based on the same source-material, which is punchy, entertaining and satisfying. But each company has something different to offer its audience members. “[The show] is a good show for Vintage because it is a “vintage” type of show, meaning it is old school written in a newer era. It takes you back to the roaring 20’s in a comedic way and sort of makes fun of it all. And the new space is a perfect venue for musicals!” says Brinkman. The remote, picturesque Creede is a bit of a different draw. “Creede is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The views are absolutely breath-taking, and I often pinch myself when I walk out of my door in the morning.” In terms of Creede Rep, “The focus [of the company] is always artistic excellence tinged with a lot of joy and fun. I attribute this to the amazing leadership of the company by Maurice LaMee and Jessica Jackson, who have such a gorgeous vision for the company.”
The Drowsy Chaperone is full of all of the best that musical theater has to offer — a simple, charming plot, catchy, hummable music, infectious dance numbers, and a comedically foreign villian (Aldolpho). Each Drowsy has her own favorite moment in the show’s multitude of offerings. For Newton, her favorite moment is an over-the-top duet with Patrick Du Laney as Aldolpho. “At the first read-through of the script, I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes, and I told him point-blank that I didn’t think I could work with him because I couldn’t keep a straight face. He is a comic genius. There is so much I can learn about comedy in this cast. ” Brinkman is mesmerized by the dancing. “I love watching the tap number” she says, “because I’m so jealous people can do that.”
There is a lot in the show alone that will draw in audience members of all types. “The female characters are well written – funny, endearing, strong. The show within the show is supposed to have been written in 1928, but the sense of the women involved definitely shows the modern writing, thankfully.” says Newton. “And the homage given to the Three Stooges by Tosin Morohunfola and Brian Kusic as the Pastry Chefs should satisfy less fanatic theater-goers like my husband. The whole show is a laugh-riot.”