Filichia Features: Go with This Chaperone

Filichia Features: Go with This Chaperone

By Peter Filichia on November 03, 2017

Every theater group has one.

He's the actor who can tell you that My Fair Lady ran 2,717 performances and that the walls of Max Bialystock's office in the original film of The Producers sported window cards for such musical theater immortals as Cafe Crown, Foxy and Something More!

The guy who tells you that you must order the Peruvian cast album of Big (and yes, there is such a thing) has been called everything from "a musical theater enthusiast" to, far less elegantly, "a show freak."

Be he six-foot-seven or three-foot-two, big and mighty or underfed, he's your logical leading man for "Man in Chair" - the leading man of The Drowsy Chaperone.

The character in the Lambert-Morrison-Martin-McKellar show has a penchant for the musicals of yesteryear. Luckily, he does have a bootleg recording of his favorite one from 1928 which is indeed called The Drowsy Chaperone.

And tonight, from the confines of his not-so-lofty apartment (a fact that will delight your set designer) he'll bring the show to life for you while telling of Robert Martin and Janet Van De Graff's "a gay wedding," which, he hastens to remind us, in 1928 simply meant a lighthearted and carefree one.

That Janet's abandoning her Broadway career to become Mrs. Martin greatly worries her producer Mr. Feldzeig. (Switch the two syllables of his name and you'll get the joke.)

Without Janet on the marquee, Feldzeig will have a harder time making the money he desperately needs to pay gambling debts to gangsters who burst onto the scene.

(Of course they do. Musicals love gangsters, as Guys and Dolls and Kiss Me, Kate have been proving for decades.)

So once the two thugs show up at Mrs. Tottendale's manse, will they ruin everything? The oh-so-grand (albeit oh-so-scatterbrained) dowager had enough to worry about with all those eccentric guests on hand.

(You know the guests have to be eccentric; Janet's friends come from the world of theater, remember?)

As a result, your Man in Chair isn't the show's only meaty role. There's that Drowsy Chaperone, who's here to ensure that Janet's day goes well.

Why a grown woman would need a chaperone is never explained. And why is she such a sleepyhead? Well, that's clear from her booze-imbibing ways.

Feldzeig hires Aldolpho, a European lover, to seduce Janet away from Robert. The Spaniard isn't as suave and irresistible as he thinks, which is part of the fun. Then there's Kitty, a lesser star in the theatrical firmament who can't wait for Janet to tie the knot; the legend's leaving could mean her big break. And right out of Greek tragedy comes a comic moment: Trix, an aviatrix who, in the best deus ex machina tradition, flies in at the last moment to save the day.

(If you don't feel like making a stage-filling airplane that flies in - or feel you can't - an off-stage sound of an early-era glider can do the trick.)

The Drowsy Chaperone harkens back to those '20s musicals that had daffy characters and plots, all to put a smile on one's face and a tap into one's toes. That the creators perfectly followed the template of long-ago librettos, lyrics and music resulted in the show's snagging Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score.

"Show Off," Janet's farewell-to-show-biz, amusingly and slyly shows that she really has no intention of giving up fame and fortune. "As We Stumble Along" is The Chaperone's cri de coeur that reminds us that life isn't easy. (Well, certainly not when you're a drunk.) "I Am Aldolpho" reveals you-know-who's fear that people won't remember him if he doesn't painstakingly state his name 13 times and have The Chaperone repeat it four more times (and in a mere two-and-a-half minutes).

Now you're thinking, well, yes, we do have a, um, musical theater enthusiast in our group, but the guy can't carry a tune. Measure for measure, he's more problematic than Shakespeare's worst problem plays.

Good news! Man in Chair doesn't sing a single note. Oh, if he does have ability and you want him to contribute to the big finale - "I Do, I Do in the Sky" - he certainly can (that is, if he's not too busy telling you that when I Do! I Do! was originally produced, Mary Martin and Robert Preston gave up performing matinees 10 months into the run).

Your props people won't be required to make a mock-up of a long-playing record cover of The Drowsy Chaperone because Ghostlight Records not only released the original cast album on CD but also on vinyl. It has one of those "gatefold covers" - two jackets joined together -- that used to be the trademark of An Important Broadway Musical.

So that prop will be as easy to get as your Broadway-omniscient Man in Chair. Best of all, because he'll be too busy learning his lines, he'll stop cornering you and asking questions like "What musical had an important character whose actual name was never revealed, but the three-word phrase that described her served as the actual name of the show?"

Read more Filichia Features. 

You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at