By Dylan Toolajian
When Villanova Theatre first announced its production of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” I knew it would be a hit. The show—infectiously fun, hysterically funny and completely relatable even when performed poorly—was superbly conceived and executed by its director, University president Rev. Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A.
The musical is based on the principle of a show-within-a-show, in which the Broadway-obsessed Man in Chair invites the audience into his apartment to listen to his favorite record, the soundtrack of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” As the recording progresses and Man in Chair explains the various plot points, the characters appear in his apartment and the musical literally comes alive.
The titular character, often referred to simply as “Chaperone,” is the guide and maid of honor of Janet Van De Graaff, a famous showgirl who plans to give up her “life of glamor” to marry Robert Martin, an oil tycoon she barely knows. As DeGruff and Martin prepare for their wedding later that day, chaos unfolds for the other characters: the producer of DeGruff’s show, the elderly wedding hostess and her manservant, Martin’s friend and best man, as well as multiple other guests.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” is a lighthearted comedy about a musical that is sure to please anyone who sees it, and Villanova Theatre presents it in a riotously entertaining performance that is perfectly suited to students and locals alike.
The actual show begins before the lights even come up, with a monologue from Man in Chair about his love of theatre. He sets the humorous tone right away, cracking jokes and engaging the audience by addressing them.
When the pit orchestra suddenly picks up the overture coming from his phonograph, he begins to dance and the set starts to change. Ahren Potratz, the second-year acting scholar who plays Man in Chair, is affectionate, endearing and almost a little fanatical at times. It blends these qualities into an immensely likeable character who, to Potratz’s credit, captivates the audience from his first line. As he listens to his record, we learn more about his passion for theatre and his history with the music he enjoys.
De Graaff is played by first-year acting scholar Christine Petrini, whose portrayal of the stage diva is well-balanced between sincere and flashy. Her powerful singing voice and comedic flair were showcased in a fun rendition of “Show Off,” DeGruff’s signature number, which had audience members—myself included—cheering and laughing mid-routine.
However, it was Jen Jaynes—the Drowsy Chaperone herself—who most often stole the show. She perfectly embodies the sarcastic, inquisitive and sometimes overdramatic nature of the Chaperone at her drowsiest.
I was particularly impressed by her rendition of “As We Stumble Along,” an iconic number that showcased her powerful vocal talent and her level of comfort on stage. At the show’s onset, Man in Chair immediately establishes the Chaperone as his favorite character, and Jaynes’ stellar performance captivates the audience as well.
The professional quality of the set and staging was impressive. Each piece needed to serve multiple purposes to meet the demands of both the apartment and the 1920s world of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
The actual mechanics of the performance were equally professional—lights, sound and staging fed into one another with precise timing and near-perfect accuracy. The pit orchestra is also responsible for the wonderfully fun atmosphere in the theatre. The charisma and energy they added to the performance made the whole experience even more enjoyable.
Pianist and conductor Peter A. Hillard did an excellent job of keeping both the musicians and the actors at the correct tempo, a difficult task at the best of times.
Of course, the direction of Donohue, a Barrymore Award-winner, is perhaps the greatest triumph of the musical.
His experience is evident in the execution of complex dance numbers such as “Toledo Surprise,” and the movements of the character Trix the Aviatrix in cumbersome plane props.
The last scene of the show can sometimes take on a regretful or sad-but-sweet tone, yet Donohue takes it to an uplifting, joyous place.
The feat of getting a show as big as this one to fit into an intimate black box theatre such as the University’s is, in itself, an exhaustive feat.
All in all, this whimsical musical is performed by a stellar cast, is well-directed and embodies both the excitement and real warmth that its writers hoped to convey.
Students and Main Line theatre enthusiasts alike will have a terrific time at this feel-good performance, and I heartily recommend it. “The Drowsy Chaperone” will have you stumbling along with your head full of feel-good tunes and your feet tapping cheerfully for days to come.