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1920s parody gets first-ever appearance in Triad

by Lenise Willis

 lenise@yesweekly.com

Illustrating the true meaning of “a show within a show,” The Drowsy Chaperone isn’t just a musical comedy. It’s a musical within a comedy, taking the opportunity to thoroughly poke fun of the nonsensical 1920s musicals that beg for parody.

Bringing the Triad its first-ever production of the spoof and Tony Award-winning musical is Kernersville Little Theatre.

“The genesis of the show is so interesting and so much fun,” said director Stanley Bernstein, who noted that the writers and lyricists originally started writing the production as a present for a friend’s bachelor party.

The skits were a hit and so Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison and Don McKellar continued their work with Bob Martin to fully develop the musical, which was first produced in 1998 in Toronto.

“The nature of the show is that it’s a spoof of 20s musicals and that’s a wealth of possibilities,” Bernstein said.

Back in the 1920s, before the production of Oklahoma — the first musical to seamlessly fuse songs and storyline — musicals were mostly comprised of stock characters and vaudevillian skits.

“It was just an excuse to have people do little comedy skits and the songs didn’t have to relate to the story or the characters,” Bernstein explained. “It was just fun. It’s the kind of show you can really have fun making fun of, so it’s just rife with parody.”

The story takes place in a ratty New York apartment — the home of a middle-aged, asocial fan of musicals. As the man plays the record of his favorite musical, the fictional 1928 hit The Drowsy Chaperone, the production comes to life onstage and his apartment is creatively transformed into a palatial mansion.

“The world within the show has to come alive within this dingy little apartment, and so some of those things happen in as magical of a way as we could do it,” Bernstein said.

One of the staff’s theatrical tricks involves a Murphy bed that pulls out out of the wall. When the man folds up his bed — dirty sheets and all — it comes back out of the wall dressed in beautiful satin sheets to portray the musical’s luxurious set.

As the characters put on their silly acts, the man offers wry comments on the music, story and actors, and aids the audience with additional background tidbits, such as the fact that one of the actors was the former spokesman for All Bright Toothpaste, one of the most popular brands of toothpaste “because it contained cocaine… it was the fifth ingredient down after sugar.”

Throughout the play, the man not only talks to the audience, but also resets the record when it skips, stops to answer the phone and even leaves to go to the bathroom.

“The script is so hilariously funny. The characters are fun. And [it gives us] free range to do anything,” Bernstein said. “The musical aspect of it — which is the 1920s musical — is so much fun and delightful. But it’s a parody of everything, so there’s wildly satirical dialogue. It’s a wonderful musical within a hilarious comedy.”

Bernstein added that the music itself, because it parodies the senselessness of ’20s musicals, “is just so stupid and silly.”

“If you listen to the songs by themselves, a lot of the lyrics don’t make sense,” Bernstein said. “But within the context of the show, they’re absolutely brilliant. In the ’20s, the songs weren’t about the motions or characters; they were just there to fill space sometimes or to give a big show to the audience. It didn’t matter if they related to the story or not. The authors really had a wonderful time spoofing those songs.”

“We have to educate the audience on the show because it’s fairly new,” added Bernstein, “but I knew that actors would be chomping at the bit to do the show because it’s so funny and so much fun, and it’s a Triad premiere. It’s an all local, community cast.

“It’s one of the best casts I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with because the talent is just so good.”

WANNA go?

Kernersville Little Theatre presents The Drowsy Chaperone at James Fitzpatrick Auditorium at Kernersville Elementary School, 512 W. Mountain St., Thursday through Sunday and June 27-30. Tickets are $14 advance or $16 at the door. For tickets and more information visit kltheatre.com or call 336.993.6556.

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