High school production wakes up with ‘Drowsy Chaperone’

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Crew members for the BHS Thespian Society winter musical production of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ which will have a biplane lifting from the stage, stand together.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield High School Thespian Society will present “The Drowsy Chaperone” as its annual winter musical production on Feb. 27, 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. and March 1 at 2 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

The show, a recollection of a 1928 musical in the mind of its narrator, has a cast of 34 and will feature tap dancing, blindfolded roller skaters, an elaborate set and something of an engineering feat with a Roaring ’20s biplane lifting from the stage. Producer/director Brandon Doemling, acknowledging the technical challenges, said there is a lot of STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics — in theater. “The Drowsy Chaperone” is also a big costume production.

“It’s really a fun show,” Doemling said earlier this week. “It’s billed as a musical within a comedy.”

Although the story’s time period is the Jazz Age, when flappers and Prohibitionists coexisted in a society trying to define itself, Doemling said there are similarities with our own time.

“As we stumble along into a new decade, this show helps us recognize ourselves in another time,” he said. “As the narrator reminds us, ‘I know it’s not a perfect show, but it does what a musical is supposed to do. It gives you a little tune to carry with you in your head, a little something to help you escape from the dreary horrors of the real world.’ ”

Written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, with music by Greg Morrison and Lisa Lambert, “The Drowsy Chaperone” was nominated for 13 Tony Awards for the 2006 theatrical season, winning five, including best book and music.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” tells the backstory of the actors in a ’20s musical, titled “The Drowsy Chaperone,” as recalled by a character known as “Man in the Chair.” Doemling said, for his production, this character is played by a girl known as the “Fan in the Chair.” She hates theater but when feeling blue plays a record of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

“She puts on the record and the musical comes alive,” Doemling said. “She talks about it, but she is more than a narrator. And she introduces the characters as they perform. When the record skips, the action repeats. There’s also a power outage. The flappers and Prohibition give a sense of conflict.”

Another comparison between the Roaring ’20s and the present, Doemling said, is that both periods were/are a time of a so-called economic boom, but a boom that passed by many people.

“I think we’re at a place where we’re struggling for our identity,” he said. “We want to go back to the good old days — make America great again — but people just want to live their lives. There’s a lot of stress now.”

What is new about this show for Doemling is that he has never directed a musical with tap dancing.

“It turns out we have a half-dozen girls who can tap and we taught the boys,” he said. “And Gabbi Nucci, who is in the show, is a fantastic tap dancer.”

The action takes place in the mansion of the reclusive “Fan in the Chair,” and scenes are acted in various rooms, which have windows and vistas. The walls of the rooms go up 16 feet to mask the stage behind.

“The walls go above the ceiling line,” Doemling said.

The problem of a biplane taking off is handled by Ben Douglas, a senior directing the backstage crew.

“I was given the problem that it had to fly, per se,” Ben said. “I first thought to hang it from the ceiling, but we didn’t have the equipment.”

Ben will be using a winch and an inclined plane, much like the mechanics used to pull boats from the old Morris Canal and over land, he acknowledged.

The biplane, built and painted by the backstage crew, has wings, a fuselage and a propeller that spins. Ben said the motor that moved the clock hands for “Cinderella” last year is being used.

“It was built from scratch,” he said. “A lot of the wood comes from other shows.”

The production team for “The Drowsy Chaperone” is headed by Ralph Turano, set design; Vicki Myers, lighting design; Nick Von Hagel, sound design; Katherine Martinez, costume design; and Bert Petrick, props. The orchestra is mostly composed of student musicians. An admission fee will be charged.