Goodspeed Revives Loving Musical Parody 'The Drowsy Chaperone'

Goodspeed actors agree: “There’s a little Man in Chair in all of us.”

John Scherer and John Rapson each utter that illuminating comment in separate phone interviews, describing the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which they are appearing in at the Goodspeed Opera House through Nov. 25. Schere plays Man in Chair; Rapson plays a character Man in Chair conjures up.

The Man in Chair is the show’s otherwise nameless narrator. He sits (unsurprisingly) in a chair, faces the audience and seems withdrawn and unremarkable until he begins to wax rhapsodic over one of his favorite musical theater shows ever. As he spins the musical’s soundtrack album on his turntable and passionately describes the action in the show, The man’s living room is transformed into a Broadway stage and “The Drowsy Chaperone” springs to life.

For a theater that regularly offers premieres of new musicals (“Chasing Rainbows”), revivals of classic old ones (“Oliver!,” “Oklahoma!”) and full-blown rewrites of shows that deserve another chance (“Rags”), “Drowsy Chaperone” seems either on the young side or the old side in terms of Goodspeed consideration.

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The show — a Canadian creation, with a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison — was first conceived as stag-party entertainment for musical-loving friends in 1997, then expanded for a small theater run in Toronto in 1999 and for a much larger venue in the same city in 2001. U.S. audiences didn’t experience “The Drowsy Chaperone” until it had a regional theater try-out in Los Angeles in 2005, followed by 19 months on Broadway in 2007-08. The show’s first national tour visited The Bushnell in 2008.

The Goodspeed doesn’t generally touch musicals that could be seen in New York just a decade earlier. But “The Drowsy Chaperone” feels much older than that. It’s a loving parody of peppy musicals from the 1920s and ’30s, the sort of fare that the Goodspeed has specialized in for much of the theater’s 55-year history. Some good examples of the form include “Good News,” “My Own and Only,” “42nd Street,” “Anything Goes” and “Red, Hot and Blue,” all of which have been done at the Goodspeed.

This slot now occupied by “The Drowsy Chaperone” on the Goodspeed schedule was originally intended to be filled with a revival of an even more recent musical set in the 1920s: “Bullets Over Broadway,” the 2014 musical based on the 1994 Woody Allen gangster comedy. Public opinion regarding Allen’s alleged abuse of one of his children led to the canceling of “Bullets Over Broadway.”

Many of “The Drowsy Chaperone”’s cast members have been in Goodspeed shows before, including Ruth Gottschall (“James and the Giant Peach”), Jay Aubrey Jones (“Anything Goes,” “Gotham”), Tim Falter (“42nd Street,” “Singing in the Rain”), James Judy (“Damn Yankees,” “Half a Sixpence”), Jennifer Allen (“High Button Shoes”) and several members of the chorus. A Goodspeed spokesperson says that “casting so many Goodspeed alumni was not intentional, but a truly happy accident.”

At any rate, the cast shares a deep affection for the sort of show they are fondly mocking, and a communal gift for reinvigorating bygone musical theater tropes.

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When we last heard from Rapson — a Goodspeed newbie — he was at The Bushnell starring in the first national tour of the Hartford Stage-born hit “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ as the many goofily doomed members of the D’Ysquith family. When the tour ended, he headed off Broadway to play the Beadle, and understudy the title role, in a site-specific “Sweeney Todd” staged in an actual storefront pie shop.

“Then these auditions came up,” Rapson says. “There’s slightly less death in this.”

“I’m really digging being here,” in bucolic East Haddam, Rapson says. A self-described “big history buff,” he’s been exploring local landmarks and just enjoying the environment. “The Goodspeed is kind of perfect. It’s a great group of people. Fast friendships formed. I love being out here.”

Rehearsals were just as enjoyable.

“We’re trying to make each other laugh all the time.” That’s not hard when the show is “in the same laugh-a-minute farce zone as ‘Gentleman’s Guide’.”

Hunter Foster, the show’s director, is “so great, so smart,” Rapson says. “The comedy is over the top, but with a tremendous amount of heart. It’s so darn funny, but it has some emotional heft too. It’s sweet and lovely.”

Rapson says he first saw “Drowsy Chaperone” when he was in college, “and really remembered this role that I’m playing now. I play a character within a character — the actor Roman Bartelli, an alcoholic silent movie star who is playing the role of Aldolpho. It’s pretty big stuff: lots of crazy gestures and amazing looks.”

For Scherer, the star of Goodspeed productions “By Jeeves” and “George M!” who now finds himself in the enviable sedentary role of Man in Chair, the fun began at auditions.

“… I did a funny trick at my audition. I made a prop. There’s a moment when the Man in Chair shows the audience a photo of one of the [fictitious] stars of the musical, Beatrice Stockwell. I held up a photo of [longtime Goodspeed line producer] Donna Lynn Hilton. There was so much laughter it stopped the auditions.”

“This show is a great choice for the Goodspeed,” Scherer says. “I loved the whole thing when I first saw it. I saw a dress rehearsal in New York when it was first on Broadway, because they were interested in me for the tour, but it didn’t work out.” Only “small, tiny changes” have been made for this production, he says: “Like, we’re doing the show with an intermission, so we moved a monologue.”

“It’s weird playing this part because I don’t really interact with anybody until the very end of the play, even though I’m onstage for the whole show.

“I really had to stretch for this role,” Scherer jokes. “A single man living in New York who listens to show tunes when he’s depressed.

“There’s a little Man in Chair in all of us. That’s why he doesn’t have a name.”

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam, through Nov. 25. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m.; with added Thursday matinees Oct. 25, Nov. 1, 8 and 15 at 2 p.m.; and Sunday evening performances on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, 14 and 21 at 6:30 p.m. On Thanksgiving week there are no performances Nov. 21 and 22 but an added 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 23. Tickets are $29 to $79. 860-873-8668,

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