January 9th kicked off many things at Vanguard University: the spring 2023 semester, the usual parking frenzy, and rehearsals for the Lyceum Theater’s spring musical The Drowsy Chaperone. The Drowsy Chaperone is an award-winning 1998 play-within-a-play style musical. It tells the story of a quirky musical theatre fan – the “Man in Chair” – who turns to a record of his favorite outrageous 1920s musical (which shares a title with the show itself) to distract himself from his unidentified sadness. The songs he plays reveal the story in his kitchen, leading to witty shenanigans which include a song where the leading lady laments that her fiancé is a “monkey,” who she has placed upon a pedestal (the Man warns us to ignore the lyrics); the record skipping causing the actors to repeat the same dance move in a hilarious glitchy way; and wedding conducted on a plane in flight, all while the Man in Chair breaks the fourth wall speaking directly to the audience commenting on the show and its fictional actors.
Consulting the Lyceum Theater’s TikTok page (@lyceumtheater) reveals a video with several of the cast members unboxing the scripts and librettos for the show and holding them up with excited smiles. Anyone who has seen a musical at the Lyceum Theater like last year’s smash hit Mamma Mia!, can see the detail and work put into these shows. It is apparent from the smooth choreography to the detailed costumes, but what happens between the page and the stage? How do the words on the script become the dazzling dance numbers and sharp comedy?
The Drowsy Chaperone’s Assistant Stage Manager, Madison Melendes, says, “It starts with learning the material, the dances, getting it on its feet with scripts in hand. Once everything’s learned, ditching the scripts, as [the dance choreographer] would say, ‘crash and burn, sparkle and shine through it’ and really diving deep and putting on a show through the cleaning process.”
Whole rehearsal days are dedicated to learning and rehearsing the songs with a music director. Others are spent on the dance choreography with a filler track playing so the actors do not yet have to worry about singing. It is important to balance blending well with the cast and standing out to the director. Sean, a cast member from The Young Americans, a California-based performing arts college, says that confidence is key when starting the rehearsal process. “Everyone knows you’re special, everyone knows you’re confident but it’s that confidence that gets you into more numbers.” Although the director is calling all the shots, the actors still have to be bold and make choices for their character to truly stand out.
As the rehearsal process continues and opening night draws nearer, the cast and director begin to weave all of the elements together. Once the songs and dances are learned, they can be combined forming a complete dance number. Once all of the scenes are learned, they can be performed in sequence with the songs. In the week leading up to opening night the actors take on the most rigorous challenge of all: tech week. With the show all assembled, it is time to add the technical elements; lighting, microphones, the full band, costumes, makeup, and sound cues. Tech rehearsals are long and taxing, but extremely rewarding as the show finally begins to feel and look like a show. Arriving at opening night is the end in some senses but also the beginning as the final piece falls into place: the audience.
The Lyceum Theater’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone opens February 24th.
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