ArtsLink: A Review of The Drowsy Chaperone Through the Eyes of a BHS Alumnus

By Jason Young on October 10, 2012 from A&E Blog via

The first show of the Bridgeport High School theatre season opens on Thursday night. The Drowsy Chaperone, presented by the senior class and featuring an alumni guest artist, is my 11th show at BHS.
I am honored to bring the show to this community, because it is a relative unknown. As an artist I believe part of my responsibility is to continue to expose my audience to things they can’t see anywhere else. There is no progress if we just continue to re-hash the same 12 to 15 titles that everyone “knows”. There is great literature for musical theatre being written every day and this show is a prime example.
In the past, I have used this forum as a way to shamelessly promote projects that I am involved in. I didn’t think that would be the best approach for this particular show. So, on Sunday evening, I invited BHS Alumnus Lindsay Dawson to attend our first dress rehearsal. Lindsay holds a degree in Theatre from West Virginia University and I respect her skill as well as her opinion. Lindsay was asked to be brutally honest and review the production. She did so, and that review is below.
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I proudly claim Bridgeport High School as my alma mater. Even more proudly, I claimed the Bridgeport High School auditorium as a second home during my four years there. As a BHS theatre alumnus, I maintain very high standards for its productions, so with an invitation from Director Jason Young, I sat in on the dress rehearsal for his latest BHS theatrical endeavor, The Drowsy Chaperone. I had never seen a production of the show before, so I walked through the Green Room and into the house with high expectations and excitement.
The Man in Chair, played by BHS alum Tom Schoffler, opens the show by inviting the audience into his home, as he discusses the charms of his favorite pastime, musical theatre. His excitement leads him to his favorite show, which is, of course, The Drowsy Chaperone. He happily plays the soundtrack, via record, and the audience is transported to 1928. With his honest charm and endearing spunk, Schoffler sets the mood of the show. An introverted, socially-awkward and clever gentleman looking for an escape from the displeasure and dullness of his everyday life, the Man in Chair enthusiastically interacts with the scenes, songs, and dance numbers that come to life in his home.
Schoffler wittily breaks down the fourth wall, builds an honest relationship with the audience, and narrates the story of Robert Martin, a
wealthy oil tycoon, and Janet Van De Graaff, a Broadway star. The couple, played by theatre veterans Kody Mullins and Maggie Ludwig, is soon to be married. Janet is under the watch of her always intoxicated, or “drowsy,” Chaperone, Brooke Cottrill. Devon Johns plays the Broadway producer Mr. Feldzieg. At the mercy of two gangsters disguised as pastry chefs, played by Logan Lehosit and Chase Janey , Feldzieg must convince Janet to cancel the wedding and return to the stage. All the while, ditzy chorus girl “Kitty…just Kitty,” played by Kallie Nealis, begs for her chance to be the leading lady in his show “Feldzieg’s Follies”.
The writers of the show, Bob Martin and Don McKellar, and composer and lyricist Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, provide several scenes and musical numbers that the BHS cast simply nails. As the Chaperone, Brooke Cottrill practically steals the show with “As We Stumble Along,” a professed “ballad to alcoholism” as described by Man in Chair. Cottrill has a voice that demands attention and resonates throughout the house. Her playfulness and commitment to her role is epitomized in this number. Maggie Ludwig and Kody Mullins embody the innocence and naivety of their characters in “An Accident Waiting to Happen”. These characters are seemingly 2-dimensional throughout the show, which contrasts perfectly with the sweet and relatable honesty of the love depicted in this number. In her solo “Show Off,” Ludwig is granted a true diva moment – a moment that she relishes to the utmost. Her voice powerfully belts out the memorable tune, and left me wanting to wallow in the limelight and fearlessly belt it out with her (as I am doing even right now). Yet another character to take note of is Aldolpho, a self-proclaimed lady’s man, who refuses to let anyone forget his name. “I Am Aldolpho” is a hilarious number in which Cameron Coley embraces this Latin character, complete with a hilarious accent that sounds even better as he sings, and passionate choreography.
Mrs. Tottendale, played by Ally Herron, is the host for the wedding. She and her employee Underling, played by Jesse Hamrick, give the audience a handful of very honest and playful moments in which to laugh and be entertained. 
While the highs of the show were many, I also noticed the overall lack of energy that typically extinguishes the excitement of a first dress rehearsal. Having a full day of tech work behind them, the cast put forth their best efforts, but remained somewhat behind the tempo of the show. As it will do, this exhaustion affected other aspects of the performance as well. As I sat among the creative team, I found myself unable to laugh at the moments that had them cracking up. The diction was a bit muddled, as were a handful of costume changes and moments in the choreography. Yet, as a theatre practitioner myself, I know to credit these flaws to the typically chaotic and tiring final days before opening.
Despite the usual issues of tech and dress, for a first dress rehearsal, I noticed several advantageous uses of space, of play, of musicality, and creativity. The costumes that were ready for use were stunning from the house, courtesy of costume designer Jason Noland and wardrobe staff Albani St. Martin Brown and Kirsten King. Set designer Pat Sibbett combined the bland home necessary for the Man in Chair with an accessible play space in which the story of The Drowsy Chaperone came to life. Director Jason Young and wife Sarah Young choreographed challenging and entertaining numbers, particularly the tap number “Cold Feets,” followed by “An Accident Waiting to Happen,” “Show Off,” and “Toledo Surprise”. Characters were clearly defined, each with an accompanying vaudevillian gesture or gimmick. The comedic moments of the drunken chaperone, the gangsters, and Aldolpho enhanced the occasional vulnerability of Janet, Robert, and Man in Chair.
The latter three characters carry, in my opinion, a very important responsibility, and that is to convey the message of the production as a whole.
Near the close of the show, The Man in the Chair shares his obsession with a specific moment in The Drowsy Chaperone, which, ever since my viewing, I also have thought over. I won’t spoil this moment for you, but I will say that this message is successfully delivered.  Even in the difficult, confusing, devastating, or unsettled moments of your life, live while you can, and embrace all that you can. This is what I love about the theatre; it can take you to a new world of new ideas and thinking – or in this case, a purposefully melodramatic world of familiar characters, completely expected plot twists, and classic humor – and teach you something
Theatre can make you think, and the BHS production of The Drowsy Chaperone skillfully delivers its message in a lovely little package of song and dance, accompanied by moments that make you laugh out loud and touch your heart.
 - Lindsay Dawson
For a story preview on the production, which includes times of shows and other key information, click HERE.

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