Seton Hill University’s theater department closed out their two weekends of “The Drowsy Chaperone” with their final show last Saturday in the William Granger Ryan Theatre at SHU’s Performing Arts Center.
“The Drowsy Chaperone,” which portrays a “show within a show,” is a 2006 Broadway musical that won five Tony awards and is a parody of musicals of the 1920s. SHU’s show was directed by Robert C.T. Steele.
The show was led by sophomore theater performance and business administration major Cameron Nickel, who played the character only known as Man in Chair.
“He’s a glass half full kind of person with a terrible past life,” Nickel said. “He was the only one who had sort of a backstory and was a complex character, so that definitely drew me to it.”
Man in Chair accompanied the audience throughout the show, speaking directly to them and offering sarcastic comments and his feelings about his favorite musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Nickel’s character also describes the actors and actresses who play the characters in “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
“For a long time, he came off very snobby, and sort of above everyone else, which we had to work at to make him sort of level,” Nickel said. “We couldn’t get too dark with some of the sadder parts of his story, or it would just tank the show, so we had to keep it light. That was a lot of the challenge.”
The “show within a show” of “The Drowsy Chaperone” centers on actress Janet Van de Graaff, played by sophomore musical theater major Leah Prestogeorge, who wants to give up her life of fame to marry oil tycoon Robert Martin, played by junior musical theater major Noah Telford. Prestogeorge also took on the role on Jane Roberts, the actress who played Janet, while Telford took on the role of Percy Hyman, the actor who played Robert.
In the musical, Broadway producer Mr. Feldzieg, played by sophomore Malcolm McGraw, wants to stop the marriage because Janet is the star of his show. Janet is accompanied by her chaperone throughout the show, played by junior Barbara Lawson, who tries to offer pieces of advice despite being constantly “drowsy.”
“Everyone was able to step up to the challenge,” Prestogeorge said. “Everyone took on their roles and became their roles, and I think that’s the major success of this show.”
Other members of the cast included Victorious Collymore-Bey as Aldolpho, Jena Grgurich as Kitty, Nicole Castelli as Mrs. Tottendale, Adam Sarp as Underling, Jacob Westwood as George, Ian Denham and Robert Tramontina as the Gangsters, Azaria Oglesby as Trix and Anna Strauser as the Superintendant.
“‘Acting is reacting’ as they say, and I think that can absolutely be applied to our entire cast,” Telford said. “There was a ton of talent on the stage for this show and everyone did an incredible job working with each other and making the show the best it could be.”
While Nickel’s character spoke to the audience, the other characters in the show were unaware of his presence until the very end of the show, a moment that Nickel described as “cathartic” and emotional enough to bring tears to his eyes on multiple nights.
“In rehearsals, it was rough because I never knew if anything was working, if anything was actually funny, because cast and director, we had been through it so many times that no one ever laughed,” Nickel said. “So opening night, it was great to actually have people respond, and it improved my performance I feel, because the relationship between the Man in Chair and audience is what makes the show the show.”
One of most prominent moments of the show is when the Man in Chair reflects on whether the chaperone said the word “leave” or “live,” posing the question to the audience, “It’s better to have lived than left, right?”
“It was one of my favorite moments in that monologue,” Nickel said. “That’s the point where it was a really intense moment, but that line is sort of the driving force behind his character. It’s what drives him to this show, and what makes it his only hold on reality.”
SHU put on six performances of “The Drowsy Chaperone” over the course of two weekends, selling out five of the six shows.
“I think the show was an outstanding success,” Telford said. “I had several people tell me that this was their favorite production or that it was one of the best they’d seen at SHU, which was awesome and humbling to hear.”
“I really hope the audience took away that life is what you make of it,” Telford added. “Throughout the show, the Man in Chair tells us about his life and he has gone through some pretty terrible stuff, but he always finds a way to lose himself in his records and what he loves.”
Prestogeorge said that exploring different ways of singing in the show was fun for her, along with the upbeat numbers, dancing and the uplifting nature of the show.
“As much fluff as ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ was, Man in Chair’s story brought a new light to it and a new light to how we as actors and an audience take in theater,” Prestogeorge said. “It really does transport you, and being completely immersed in the show that you are doing or watching is such an amazing feeling. That’s why I do this, and that’s why I love theater.”
SHU’s next theater performances will be Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” Feb. 23-March 3 and “Letters to Sala” April 6-14, which Telford described as “two very intense and touching shows” that he thinks the department will “bring to life spectacularly.”
“Going along with the nature of this show, theater transports you,” Prestogeorge said. “Your worries can be left at the door. You come in and enter this completely different world. It’s somewhere where you don’t really have to think about your other problems. Everyone in this department is so talented, so really no matter what show we do, I think it’s going to be wonderful.”
Photos courtesy of Stefan Zubal. Set design by Karen Glass. Costume design by Susan O’Neill. Lighting Design by Ken Clothier. Sound design by Thomas K. Crowley. Choreography by Erin Shrader.
Behind The Scenes
Photos courtesy of Malcolm McGraw.