The Drowsy Chaperone: The Escapist Comedy for an Emotionally Charged Year
Theater Director Ali Boag’s inaugural musical at Packer in 2016 was Cabaret, a dark musical set in Germany at the onset of the Second World War. Since then, many of his productions have had a similar edge, a nod at the state of the world, grappling with what Mr. Boag refers to as “some sort of heavy things.” This year at Packer, one marked by protest, forums, and general furor, the theater department has decided to take a distinctly different approach with the spring musical.
On April 26, 27, and 28, The Drowsy Chaperone will transform the Pratt Theater into the apartment of a lonely Broadway fanatic, The Man in the Chair, played by Josh Wittstein (‘19). The show, labeled a ‘musical within a comedy,’ takes place solely in the Man’s apartment, where a fictional, mostly meaningless 1928 musical also titled The Drowsy Chaperone unfolds in his imagination.
“It takes the piss out of a particular kind of Broadway musical, it pokes fun at them in lots of ways. It’s very, very, very funny. When I first read the script, I was laughing out loud,” said Mr. Boag.
Though the show may, in this age, seem less relevant to the average Packer theatergoer than a musical with an underlying political message, the choice to put on such a lighthearted piece of theater was entirely intentional.
“[Mr. Boag] deliberately picked this play because it is so frothy and light, and you can kind of use it as escapism to go into this land of odd comedic genius happiness. I hope that the audience will feel like everything that’s going on their lives has gone away for that hour and a half that they are in the theater,” said Abbey Flamm (‘19), who plays the perpetually tipsy titular character, The Drowsy Chaperone.
One main message of the show, too, reflects the sentiment expressed by those producing it, the idea that theater can help the audience escape their troubles for a short period of time.
The Man in the Chair “uses musicals to escape, as he says, the ‘dreary horrors of the real world,’” said Josh. “There’s also a sadness and a loneliness that I don’t necessarily feel, but that is universal, everybody has those days. He describes it as ‘feeling blue,’ as having self-conscious anxiety for no particular reason. I think that those moments, and using musicals to escape from them, is totally relatable.”
The production, however, hasn’t been free from contention. One scene in the original script, dubbed “Message From a Nightingale,” has been removed from the Packer show due to worries over controversy.
“It’s a scene in the show where the Man in the Chair puts on, by mistake, a disc from another recording. Broadly speaking, it’s a pastiche of The King and I, and it indulges in broad racial stereotypes between Americans and Asians,” explained Mr. Boag. “It does it knowing that is what it’s doing, and the Man apologizes for it, and makes the comment that, you know, that belongs in the past.”
“Message From a Nightingale” is meant to criticize Broadway’s history, engaging in broadly racist stereotyping in order to mock shows of an earlier era. Nonetheless, the cast had worries over the audience’s reception of the scene, especially given the sensitive state of the Packer community. As a group, they made the decision to cut it altogether.
“It makes sense, especially given the political climate right now,” said Josh. “It makes sense that we don’t want the one thing people walk away from the show remembering is this three minute song that has nothing to do with the show and is just sort of there as a gag.”
“I understand that we are in a place that is very sensitive, and I understand that our position as a high school theater is not at the level where it is clear that what we were trying to do is exaggerate the stereotypes within theater, and that it would just seem like us being racist and just goofing off,” agreed Abbey.
Despite this small hitch, the spring production of Drowsy Chaperone has been going well, and everyone involved is very excited about the show. This unusual comedy will hopefully be the highlight of Packer’s spring arts lineup.
“It’s been awesome. Everyone in the show is really good, and everyone’s really good in their role, which is kind of unusual in a high school show,” said Talia Hartman-Siegall (‘20), who plays showgirl Janet Van De Graaf, the star of the show within the show. Along with Josh, Abbey, and Talia, the production is led by Theo Eagle (‘18), Dylan Fineman (‘20), and more incredible performers.