The title of West New York’s Memorial High School’s spring musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” is pretty much the only tiresome thing about the show. After debuting to a packed house last weekend, the show was scheduled to finish its run Saturday (March 23) and garnered rave reviews from students and faculty alike. Definitely one of the more colorful musicals Memorial’s Drama Club has put on in recent years (last year’s production was the more serious “Stand and Deliver”), “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a show-within-a-show about “mixups, mayhem and a gay wedding.”
“The show is very random, in a way,” said junior Steven Primero, who plays the character of Adolpho. “Hopefully, in a way, it makes sense, but it’s definitely unpredictable.”
Unpredictable indeed. The show-within-a-show is narrated by a character known only as Man in Chair, an agoraphobic theater buff who consistently breaks the fourth wall as he commentates the soundtrack to his favorite musical, you guessed it, the fictional 1928 Broadway hit “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
As the show begins, the Man in Chair delves into the musical’s storyline, which surrounds the nuptials of oil tycoon Robert Martin (Kevin Bonilla) and world-famous Feldzieg’s Follies (a play on the world-famous Ziegfeld Follies of the 1920s) dancer Janet Van De Graaff (Vanessa Cardenas). Centered smack dab in the middle of the Prohibition-Era Roaring Twenties, the wedding is to take place at the country estate of Mrs. Tottendale (Ines Rodriguez), and nearly every guest has his or her unique motivations to make sure no one ever says “I do.”
Adam Parkinson, who played Man in Chair, executed his role to perfection, delivering his best one-liners not to the other characters onstage, but to the audience.
The rest of the ensemble cast is lead by Miriam Navarrete, who plays the eponymous drowsy chaperone, tasked with making sure the bride stays out of trouble until the ceremonies are concluded, William Artiga, who plays George, Robert’s anxious best man, and Primero, who plays the conceited yet fabulous European romantic, Adolpho.
“There’s really nothing and no one that’s not in this show,” said ensemble member Jacques Chapin. “The whole cast is made up of people who are going insane the entire time.”
“I haven’t tallied up all of the receipts yet, but the students raised somewhere from $12,000 to $14,000 to put on this show.” - Director Steven Hempel
Student run masterpiece
Despite recieving near-universal praise from his cast members, the show’s director, Steven Hempel, said the credit lies with the cast, crew, and students in the orchestra.
“I haven’t tallied up all of the receipts yet, but the students raised somewhere from $12,000 to $14,000 to put on this show,” he said.
Memorial’s Drama Club, he explained, operates on a small budget, and thus relies heavily on year-round fundraising to be able to put on a show. The club sold candles and snacks, as well as offered advertising space in the show’s program to local business owners.
This year, the fundraising was done with more gusto than ever before, said Hempel.
“We actually lost a lot of our sound and lighting technology in Hurricane Sandy, but the Board of Education helped us out and we were able to replace most of the equipment,” he said.
Hempel said that directing each year’s production (he’s done it since 1996) gives him great pleasure, because in addition to being giving students a supremely rewarding experience, he also gets to watch them reap the educational benefits.
“It’s definitely a learning process,” he said. “We work on this starting in November, so it’s a huge time commitment, so I think time management skills are definitely something they gain from this.”
About the music
The show’s score, which was written by Lisa Lampert and Greg Morrison and won a Tony Award in 2006, is heavily inspired by the Roaring Twenties era in which the wedding is taking place.
“It’s pretty roaring,” said vocal director Connie Arcilla, who also teaches music at West New York Middle School. “You’ve got your Charleston and your Swing in there, it’s a lot of fun.”
The orchestra consisted of mainly volunteers and professional musicians, although three Memorial students lent their musical talents as well. Melannie Martinez, a senior, played saxophone, clarinet and flute, while Carlos Velasquez and Stefano Armestar filled in on percussion. All three students said that “Toledo Surprise” was their favorite song in the score.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org