As it winds down its 2012 theatre season, The Bay City Players have decided to tackle The Drowsy Chaperone, a contemporary musical comedy with an ingenious narrative framework involving a lonely, musical-loving schlemiel with a hyperactive fantasy life and the showgirl heroine of his dreams.
The Drowsy Chaperone started in 1997 as a gift from writer Don McKellar, Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison for the stag party of British comedian Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graaf. While it started as a spoof of old musicals, it was reshaped for the 1998 Toronto Fringe Festival.
After being featured in the 2004 Festival of New Musicals, Broadway producer Kevin McCollum was captivated and committed to bringing The Drowsy Chaperone to Broadway. After 3 years of development it opened in May 2006 at Broadway's Marquis Theatre and won a Tony Award for Best Book and Best Score. It also played in London on the West End, opening in June 2007 and winning several Oliver Award nominations.
So what is it about this musical comedic confection that distinguishes it from other comedies in the lexicon of contemporary theatre?
"I don't really think there is anything like this show in contemporary theatre," reflects Director Michael Wisniewski. "The production is so unique with its concept of a 'show within a show' and the book and score are very complimentary to each other. It really is a delightful production."
Being a musical as well as a comedy about the impact of Broadway musicals on people, on the surface it would seem this would be an especially challenging work to stage and produce. What are some of the bigger challenges faced by Michael as a Director?
"This production has been a challenge but a great one," he reflects. "The story is woven with minimal dialogue and numerous production numbers, so the biggest challenge is weaving the reality of the character of the 'Man in Chair' with the actual production of 'The Drowsy Chaperone' on stage. The musical is played out in the man's imagination and although he can see the cast of the production, they do not see him. To me this is one of the charms of this production."
"Also, the production numbers are fairly large, so staging them to fit our stage has been a wonderful challenge," he continues. "I am very fortunate to have a solid production team and they've brought a lot of creativity to the production. They include assistant director, Susan Ross, Choreographer Holly Haga Bills and Musical Director James Hohmeyer."
With 17 cast members to fill, Michael notes that he doesn't feel he could find a more solid cast of actors. "The production was difficult to cast, as everyone is required to sing, dance and act, which is a true triple threat! But each cast member fits the character they portray and have really gone above what has been asked of them. Rehearsals are going extremely well and the dedication of the cast truly shines through. At this point rehearsals are exactly where we should be at and I am extremely happy with the progress. Cast members include Tezra Armstrong as 'The Drowsy Chaperone', Dale Bills as Aldopho, Leeds Bird as the 'Man in Chair' and David Bowden as Robert Martin.
When asked if there are any components of the plot in this musical that Michael feels compelled to bring out as a director, he notes that "The overall theme and plot of this musical are what makes it appealing. The plot begins with a man who addresses the audience and is feeling blue. To resolve this he puts on his favorite cast recording of 'The Drowsy Chaperone' and as the record starts, the actual musical comes to life in his apartment. My focus has been on keeping the balance of the present day reality of the 'Man in Chair' and the characters in the 1928 fictional musical. There is a sharp contrast between what is reality and what is the musical comedy that I'm striving to achieve."
Wisniewski's involvement with Bay City Players goes back to his first production of 'Amadeus' in 1986. Before he moved out of the area in 1993 he was involved in over 20 productions ranging from performing to working backstage. He has previously directed the musical 'The Boyfriend' and the comedy 'Blythe Spirit' and is also currently the Chair for set Decoration.
"I returned to the area in 2006 and was right back in the heart of Bay City Player's," he continues. "Since returning I've been involved with several productions, most recently directing the musical Guys & Dolls and the drama Portraits."
Being a musical, a full live orchestra is also involved with this production under the direction of James Hohmeyer.
In conclusion, Michael encourages people to attend this unusual and inspiring musical comedy. "I think with the style of this musical and it being such a wonderful book and score, our audience will really enjoy this production. It's not one to miss!"
The Drowsy Chaperone will play from May 3-6 and May 10-13 at Bay City Players, 1214 Columbus in Bay City. Tickets can be purchased by phoning 989-893-5555 or going online to baycityplayers.com
. Performance times are 8 PM Thursday through Saturday and 3:00 pm Sunday. You can also treat Mom to a special afternoon of entertainment Mother's Day, Sunday May 13!