‘The Drowsy Chaperone’: A critical look at the return of musicals at Utah Tech

Utah Tech University’s theater department presents “The Drowsy Chaperone” Feb. 28 – March 4. Sydney Johnson | Sun News Daily

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“The Drowsy Chaperone” is a step in the right direction for Utah Tech University’s theater department, and while it’s by no means perfect, those who have not seen this hilarious show will have a good time.

Sydney Johnson | Sun News Daily

First, a bit of a PSA: this is the first time Utah Tech’s theater department has put on a musical since the steampunk version of “The Wizard of Oz” in 2018. If the public wishes to see more musicals from the theater department, they need to support their endeavor into somewhat unfamiliar territory. I am not involved in any way, shape or form with this production, but I’m an absolute sucker for good musical theater.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is one of my favorite musicals. It’s filled with meta-commentary about the golden age of musicals and the need to escape from the troubles presented by modern day life. It achieves this through the pseudo-narrator of the show who doesn’t have a name, but is often called “The Man In The Chair.”

The audience is then transported to a Great Depression era musical called “The Drowsy Chaperone” within the confines of the man’s apartment filled with musical theater memorabilia.

Sydney Johnson | Sun News Daily

The show that unfolds is incredibly campy and cheesy with “The Man In The Chair” commenting and interacting with the material like he was a heckler at a comedy show.

What has just been described is usually how it’s supposed to go, but here is where Utah Tech’s theater department decided to take a risk.

The narrator in this version of the show is known as “The Person In The Chair.” They are played by an actor who prefers they/them pronouns, and their costume includes a skirt and classic curlers in their hair.

Sydney Johnson | Sun News Daily

When I first heard about this change, I began to sweat a bit. I have no problem with the choice of actor and subject matter, but what I was worried about was the idea of the theater department prioritizing political matters over a quality show.

Luckily, my worries were unfounded. The spirit of “The Person In The Chair” was infectious in their comedy and stage presence, and I was more than happy to be guided through this show by this variation of the character.

That’s not to say they did a perfect job, but there were unlikely character choices that had me looking at this character in a new light. Some lines I expected to give me a chuckle like usual ended up making me feel sympathy for “The Person In The Chair.”

However, I would’ve liked to see a little more patience in the comedy from them. Comedy is like a loop on a roller coaster. You tread up an incline before starting the approach to the loop, this is the setup of the joke. Then you have a sense of floating while you experience the apex of the loop, this is the comedic pause before the punchline. Lastly, the final bit of adrenaline in the drop of the loop along with the straightway of speed, this is the punchline and reaction.

Long story short, I wish “The Person In The Chair” would have relished in the joy of the comedic pause.

Sydney Johnson | Sun News Daily

Meanwhile, the other characters of the show seemed to be severely toned down in the campiness and cheesiness that I’m used to when it comes to “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

Case in point, Aldolpho, one of my favorite characters in the show, was missing a bit of the crazy edge he usually has. He is usually a comedically bad stereotype of Europeans while also being over-the-top in the best way possible.

The Utah Tech version is still wacky, but it felt like the actor wasn’t allowed to take that extra step into campy town that I was hoping for.

Same goes for the character of The Drowsy Chaperone. What is usually an almost incomprehensible mess of hilarious drunken quandaries has turned into someone I could realistically see at a bar.

There lies the problem I have with the theater department’s version of this show. I’ve seen what these characters can be since I’ve seen the show many times through many performing companies.

Sydney Johnson | Sun News Daily

The only one who is supposed to be somewhat stable in character is “The Man In The Chair.” Once the musical begins to unfold in the man’s living room, every character needs to be a time capsule of over-the-top nonsense that encapsulates everything crazy about the golden age of musical theater.

So, would I recommend seeing “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Utah Tech?

I would if you’ve never seen the show before. While I wasn’t as impressed with the more grounded versions of the characters, the co-workers who were with me had never seen the show before and they seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Sydney Johnson | Sun News Daily

If you’ve seen “The Drowsy Chaperone,” you are going to be disappointed with what’s presented. This is due to different choices that may not be to everyone’s taste. This also includes the omission of the best gags that happens during the “intermission.” If you’ve seen the show before, you know what I’m talking about.

Overall, students need to show their support for this show. I say this because while I wasn’t blown away with the quality of the production, this is a step in the right direction for the theater department. Musical theater is such a big facet of the arts, and it’s an absolute shame they don’t indulge in spontaneous song and dance more often.

Here’s hoping this isn’t a one time showing for musicals at Utah Tech.