Frivolous and Frothy
Described as a Russian nesting doll of a show within a show, Theatre Tulsa’s "The Drowsy Chaperone" is a love letter to musical theater and people who love musicals.
What do you get when a lonely, anxiety-ridden middle-aged man plays his favorite record in his dreary apartment as he sits in his favorite chair while the audience listens along to his commentary? Not only do you get a heartwarming glimpse into one man’s humanity, but you’re taken on an outrageously fun nonsensical journey through a 1920s-style musical comedy which comes to life in his mind.
“It’s not a typical Broadway show of our era,” says Mike Pryor, who plays Man in Chair. “What’s funny is it’s a sendup of the early 1900s jazz age. It’s frivolous and frothy. It lovingly pokes fun at people who are musical theater fanatics.”
Performed by Theatre Tulsa, The Drowsy Chaperone won’t put you to sleep. If you’re not careful, it just might have you falling out of your chair with laughter.
“The musical within the play is so ridiculous, and the characters so cut and paste, but there’s a reason for that,” says Pryor. Described as a Russian nesting doll of a show within a show, it’s also “a love letter to musical theater and for people who love musicals.”
Initially created by a group of theater actors as a bachelor party gift for their friend, this sleeper hit and winner of five Tony Awards has been entertaining audiences since 2006.
“Bob Martin’s theater friends created this spoof as a gift to him and his bride,” says Pryor. But it wasn’t until Martin co-wrote the show for the 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival, adding the character Man in Chair, that this story awakened to what audiences know and love today: a little-known, but well-loved musical comedy full of heart and humanity.
“They’re all very stock characters which is part of the fun,” says Pryor. Pryor, who has been doing musical theater since 1985, fell in love with the recording when it first came out. “I had seen the show a few times, and I always thought it was the most charming, hysterical show.”
Although Pryor played a variety of roles throughout his career — including Forever Plaid, a musical about four old high school friends killed on their way to their first big show, then have to wait in limbo as they try to sing their way into heaven; Polar Opposite which covers darker psychiatric issues; children’s theater with A Year with Frog and Toad; and Little Shop of Horrors — he feels typecast as Man in Chair.
“More than one person has indicated maybe I was typecast as the Man in the Chair because of my tremendous love of musicals and a little knowledge of them in an obscure way,” he says.
Pryor didn’t realize how typecast he might have been until he started looking around for a prop of an album cover for the show. “I wondered if they would need an open-up vinyl cover album,” says Pryor. “So I went looking in my minimal collection of vinyl. I had a lot of very obscure two-record albums.” That’s when Pryor thought maybe he was more like this character than he cared to admit.
But you don’t have to be a musical theater fanatic or lover of 1920s style musicals to enjoy The Drowsy Chaperone.
“I think it does an excellent job of setting the tone that draws you in,” says Pryor. “There’s something very human right off the bat, and that is the kind of thing that puts it a notch above as a small unheard-of show.”
While all the other characters are funny stereotyped caricatures, they’re a stark contrast to Man in Chair.
“The heart of the show is this agoraphobic gentleman who is the narrator for the evening,” says Pryor. “He talks directly to the audience and does a running commentary as the musical comes to life.”
Through all the silly antics of the 1920s musical, the more profound message shines through as the audience connects with humanity through the Man in Chair. And the character Man in Chair is named so for a reason.
“He’s not supposed to be specific. He’s a universal character we can all be,” says Pryor. “He says things like ‘I’m feeling a little blue myself. A non-specific sadness, a little anxiety.’ He’s every man, and that’s why he’s The Man in the Chair.”
As the Man in Chair opens himself up to the audience in an honest way, you begin to see he’s not just the narrator. “You get to know my character as a human, not just a weirdo who plays musicals in his apartment,” says Pryor. “It gives him some humanity, and he ends up growing.”
As he follows the characters in the musical, he finds the strength to pull himself out of his depression. “It’s such a sweet turn at the end with all the silly, nonstop ridiculousness that goes,” says Pryor. “He chooses to go on like the characters in the musical.”
Underneath all the outrageous fun, The Drowsy Chaperone is heartwarming. “Even though there’s silliness, there’s something very human about it,” says Pryor. “You’re rooting for the Man in the Chair right off the bat. You don’t have to be a theater fanatic to enjoy it.”
The Drowsy Chaperone
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St. | Tulsa
Oct. 11: 8 p.m.
Oct. 12: 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
Oct. 17-19: 8 p.m.
Oct. 20: 2 p.m.
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