“I hate theater,” grouses the narrator in the opening scene of Greenhill’s 2019 comedic winter musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
The production,a clever play within a play, is a comedy set in the early 2000s with the plot revolving around a middle-age theater fanatic imagining a 1920s musical while playing the record in their New York apartment. The Greenhill musical runs from Feb. 8-10.
The narrator, played by junior Caroline Sasso and known as Person in Chair,makes fun of typical musical stereotypes in society. The role of her character is to narrate the story and express opinions about what is happening between the characters.
“[The musical] has a funny, happy feel to it, but it also has this emotional journey that the [Person in Chair] goes on,” said Caroline “He is an incredibly complex character, because he’s always there and there’s always something throughout the course of the musical that you can tell is underlying in every decision that he makes.”
The main character of the 1920s musical within the play, Janet Van De Graaff, is a star who’s giving up her “life of glamour” to get married and is played by sophomore Alison Thieberg. As a musical theater fan herself, Alison enjoys how the plot pokes fun at normal conventions by having a narrator who adds his own satirical comments throughout the show.
“The way that it looks inside of the mind of a musical theater fan is really interesting,” said Alison. “It takes all these usual conventions and turns them on their head by making fun of them and I think it’s hilarious.”
Although she has had experience being in musicals before, Alison has only been a dancer in the ensemble and has never performed a major role.
“Playing a role of this caliber has taught me a lot about how to put emphasis on other things,” said Alison. “I’m so used to dancing in the ensemble and not really being seen, and now everyone is looking at me.”
The winter musical is a large time commitment as students in the cast work every day for two hours after school, while tech works two or three times a week during the second trimester. Two or so weeks before opening night, the cast and crew come together for something known as “tech week,” a period of time where the members of the musical stay late to combine the technical and theatrical elements into one.
The students in technical theater build the set, make props, design lights and sound, provide costumes and help the actors during the show.
“It’s fun to watch once everybody has got their stuff together,” said senior June Turbeville, the stage manager of the show.“Once everybody is finished with everything, then you can really see what you’ve been working on…that includes the set, the actors, the people, the songs, the spots, the lights, everything.”
In addition to the students, the teachers are also committed to the process of making the musical the best it can be. As a new teacher at Greenhill this year, Luçik Aprahämian, the Middle School and Upper School Choral Music teacher, enjoys working with the students on the songs for the musical. Since the musical is set in the 1920s, most of the music and dances are inspired from that decade, in addition to each character’s own personal style.
“Each character in the musical has their own musical motive so they have their own musical melody that returns every time they sing a song or come back.” said Dr. Aprahämian. “Finally all those themes come back at the very end, all together in one piece as a kind of recap of the whole theme.”
Valerie Hauss-Smith, the Upper School Drama and Theater teacher, said she appreciates the hard work the students present during rehearsal.
“We have some people who have done this before, who are sophomores all the way through seniors,” said Ms. Hauss-Smith. “We also have a lot of new people who are really dedicated in working hard, so I’m really happy for that.”
Although the overall tone of “The Drowsy Chaperone” is superficially fluffy, Ms. Hauss-Smith believes that this comedic musical still has an underlying message that the audience and cast can learn from.
“It has part of a message that we see that has to do with Person in Chair, allowing for imagination and fantasy to affect your life,” said Ms. Hauss-Smith. “I think that’s a big one.”
Dr. Aprahämian agrees with Ms. Hauss-Smith that comedy does not mean lack of meaning.
“The idea that humor doesn’t mean without depth of emotion, that those two things can coexist and that not just drama can do that is really important,” Dr. Aprahämian said.
Overall, the purpose of the winter musical is to make the audience laugh.
“For the people who are going to watch, it’s extremely funny,” said Ms. Hauss-Smith. “They’re gonna see their peers doing all sorts of things from accents to fake tapping to spit takes…You dedicate an hour and 45 minutes to come see the show, have a great time and support your friends.”
Story by Sarah Luan and Raag Venkat
Photos by Raag Venkat