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PEMCo. puts on a show-within-a-show in ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’

Maija Gustin | Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Pasquerilla East Musical Company (PEMCo.) opens up its run of the hit Broadway musical “The Drowsy Chaperone” Thursday. The show is, at its heart, a musical for and about people who love musicals. In it, the Man in Chair decides to turn on his recording of the fictional 1920s musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and the show comes to life in his kitchen. The musical-within-a-musical proceeds as the Man in the Chair interjects with his thoughts, opinions and explanations on the story and the songs. Though the Man in Chair openly criticizes many of the tropes of musical theatre, “Drowsy” is ultimately an ode to the musical and its iconic place in American culture.

The Man in Chair, played by sophomore Charlie O’Leary, serves as the musical’s narrator, often addressing the audience directly.

“It’s interesting, and oftentimes hilarious, to see the contrast between the exaggerated world of the musical ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ and the more realistic world in which the Man in Chair lives,” O’Leary told The Observer in an e-mail.

The Man in Chair’s chosen musical is named for the character of the Drowsy Chaperone, who has perhaps had a few too many drinks this evening. The title character is played by senior and Observer Scene writer Stephanie DePrez.

“The ‘Chaperone’ is drowsy because she’s an aging woman seeking love in her life while watching the young bride she is supposed to be chaperoning question her love,” said sophomore John Kemnetz, the show’s musical director, in an e-mail. ” More than anything though, she’s drowsy because it’s a 1920s-show-within-a-show, and nothing says the 1920s like the token drunk!”

Senior Joe Augustinsky, who plays George, said, “She could put Don Draper to shame.”

Director Tyler Kaplan said Notre Dame students are in for a treat with “The Drowsy Chaperone,” even if they don’t know it.

“‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is one of the most original and hilarious musicals ever written,” Kaplan said in an interview with The Observer. “Its premise and style is so original I cannot really compare it to any other musical. Its mockumentary style is similar to the movies ‘This is Spinal Tap’ and ‘Waiting for Guffman.'”

Freshman Brian Scully, who plays Robert Martin, said of the show, “It’s a send-up of all the stereotypical musicals of days past; not only is it fun to watch for the over-the-top kitschiness of the genre, but the protagonist’s ‘critique’ of the play has a distinctly modern sense of humor to it.”

“‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is unlike anything PEMCo. (or any other musical theater group) has done in some time at Notre Dame,” Kemnetz said.

“It’s a big show with huge, beautifully-choreographed song and dance numbers, fancy costumes and pretty much everything else you expect from a large-scale production while hiding pretty much all of that under the guise of a small-scale show,” Kemnetz said.

“There’s something that everyone can enjoy in ‘Drowsy,’ whether it’s the more serious theater of the exterior plot or the fun-loving, upbeat pace of the sub-plots.

Augustinsky agreed.

“It’s really about more than just old musicals,” he said. “It’s about something that brings about comfort. It’s about something that we hold close to our heart. Throughout the show, we learn more and more about this old man who is narrating the show for us and throughout all of the hardships he’s gone through, the one constant has been this musical that he’s been able to turn on and find solace in. I think that this idea of having one escape, being it our favorite book or a song that puts us in a good place, is something we can all relate to.”

The cast and production crew had nothing but praise for each other.

“The best part about being a part of this production has been the enthusiasm that I have seen from my entire cast and crew,” Kaplan said. “We have been enjoying this show so much. We are still laughing at the same parts that we have done dozens of times and can’t wait for everyone else to have a chance to enjoy this show.”

O’Leary also spoke highly of his fellow cast members. “I feel really lucky to be working with such talented people,” he said.

Kemnetz said he believes their hard work will show in the final product.

“They’re a great group to work with and everything you see on Thursday, Friday or Saturday is a result of their hard work,” he said.

Students are in for a fun night at the theatre with “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Augustinsky said.

“Old shows were about going into a theatre and for whatever length of time, having fun. We hope that this show can provide everyone with the chance to have fun,” Augustinsky said. “They will regret not going.” 


On campus


What: “The Drowsy Chaperone” presented by Pasquerilla East Music Co.
Where: Washington Hall Main Stage
When: Thursday, Nov. 4, Friday, Nov. 5 and Saturday, Nov. 6, 8 p.m. 
How much: $8 non-students, $6 students, available in the LaFortune box office