The English language is rich with idioms and cliches. Writers try to avoid them as much as we can, for a few reasons. They're trite. They don't make a lot of sense. Most of the time, there's a more original, elegant way to say the same thing. Schools hire dozens of professionals who dedicate themselves to teaching students how to write without the use of clich??s: they're called English teachers.
Were I reviewing any other musical, I'd be following their advice. However, the subject at hand isn't exactly the traditional high school show; this is "The Drowsy Chaperone," a joyous, raunchy love letter to the Jazz Age. The show is testament to the tired adage that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," because when mockery gets as straightforward, relentless and playful as it does in Keystone Oaks High School's production, there's no way to look at it other than as a sign of affection.
The program bills it as "a musical within a comedy," a wry but relatively accurate summary of the plot. As the auditorium lights dim to black, the first words the audience hears are spoken by the story's narrator -- "I HATE theater!"
This is our introduction to a character whose name is simply Man in Chair, a jaded, middle-aged man who yearns for the "golden years" of Broadway. Junior Stephen Yamalis, who plays the Man, gives an exuberant performance, amplifying the character's quirky enthusiasm for musical theater. After a brief opening monologue that's rich with off-kilter cultural references (e.g. "Please, Elton John, must we continue this charade?"), the Man in Chair introduces the audience to his absolute favorite show -- a little number called "The Drowsy Chaperone." He places the needle on his original cast vinyl recording, reclines in his armchair, and urges the audience to close their eyes; this is where the "musical within the comedy" begins.
The plot of "The Drowsy Chaperone," the actual story to which the Man in Chair so animatedly adds his own observations and factoids, is of minimal importance. It is, after all, a melodramatic parody of overwrought musicals that is itself an overwrought musical. Essentially, showgirl Janet van de Graff and oil tycoon Robert Martin are set to marry in a beautiful country wedding when things begin to fall apart. Between the overture and closing bows, countless flimsy romances are formed and broken. There's a five-minute "spit take" scene. The wedding that occurs near the end of Act II takes place on a biplane. The song that opens Act II is an oddly racist number that, according to Man in Chair, is from a different musical entirely.
For the most part, however, that's all unimportant. "Drowsy Chaperone" is foremost an ode to the art of entertaining and a thrilling confirmation of art's ability to consume a viewer. The Keystone Oaks cast succeeds so valiantly in putting on an entertaining show because every single actor and actress is shamelessly willing to make the audience laugh, a quality necessary for performing a musical like "The Drowsy Chaperone."
Naturally, some performances display more flair than others. Junior Molly Young has no dull moments as she plays the "drowsy chaperone" herself; dressed like a Bohemian queen, Young meanders endlessly around the stage with a lethargic stumble in her step, a cocksure smile on her face, and (usually) a martini glass in her hand. She's a human monkey wrench, wandering into rooms only when she has a chance to accidentally ruin someone else's plan, and Young captures this perfectly.
On the complete opposite end of the character spectrum sits the equally entertaining Aldolpho, the "Latin lothario" portrayed by junior Lucas Grasha. Whereas much of the comedy in Young's character derives from her sluggish body movement and charmingly slurred words, the laughs that Grasha earns come from his onstage ferocity and giddiness. Naturally, the auditorium erupted with laughter opening night when the two characters appeared onstage together. The contrast between Aldolpho's liveliness and the Chaperone's apathy is an absolute delight.
Unlike the musical within the musical, an enchanting mess of radically different characters who are lucky to get along, everyone in the Keystone Oaks cast has a kind of priceless chemistry with everyone else. It takes a remarkably unified cast to keep together a production like "The Drowsy Chaperone," whose story is deliberately rickety. Keystone Oaks pulls it off, delivering no-frills entertainment that's made possible by a hearty dedicated cast and some very clever stage design.
"The Drowsy Chaperone" ran March 21-23.highschoolmusicals
The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson.