Stage & Dance

'Drowsy Chaperone' to perk up musical fanatics in Lexington

And we think 3-D high- definition TV is the future. That has nothing on The Man in Chair's record player.

The Man in Chair is the catalyst character in The Drowsy Chaperone, the Tony Award-winning musical that makes its first appearance in Lexington this weekend. Depressed, he puts on a rare recording of his favorite musical to lift his spirits, and suddenly the musical comes to life in his dingy apartment, complete with seashell footlights and characters popping out of the closet.

"It's the first musical that comes from the viewpoint of the musical fanatic," says Jay Douglas, director of the production that's coming to the Lexington Opera House from Friday to Sunday. "What makes it special to those in theater is we all started as theater fanatics on one level or another."

The musical that The Man in Chair puts on is a fictional 1928 hit that might seem familiar: It attempts to fold in many classic plots and theater clichés to tell the whimsical story of a wedding teetering on disaster.

"It's meant to tip its hat to a lot of very standard conventions in musical theater," Douglas says.

In the musical within the musical, the star of the fictional Feldzeig's Follies is threatening to leave the show to marry her true love. But the impresario does not want her to go because her name is box-office gold. What's worse, mobsters with a vested interest in the show are leaning on him to keep her. As the story unfolds, we meet Latin lovers, punny goons and cases of mistaken identity on the way to the altar.

While the show is going on, The Man in Chair is commenting, dispensing trivia about the show and information about his personal life that reveals why this show is so meaningful to him.

Douglas says most musical theater fans have a Drowsy Chaperone that they turn to when they are down, a show they think is their personal mission to share with others.

For Douglas, Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins, based on the true story of a spelunker's death near Cave City, or the stage version of The Full Monty are among his "underappreciated" shows that he tries to tell people about. He says The Drowsy Chaperone is probably on his list, too.

As well it should be.

In the 2006 Broadway production, which was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won five, Douglas was a swing, meaning he understudied several roles, and he was dance captain.

That made him something of a logical choice to bring the touring production to life.

He says the tour coming to the Opera House is faithful to the Broadway version and the first national tour, which hit major markets including Cincinnati.

"It's slightly scaled down with a more portable set," Douglas said. "But my job was to re-create Casey Nicholaw's direction and be faithful to the original production."

He did quite a bit of that work in Kentucky, at Owensboro's RiverPark Center, which has become a regular launching pad for Broadway tours. The company came to the Bluegrass State right after the December holidays and worked on the show through the first week of the year.

"It's a nice, big facility," Douglas said of the Owensboro theater. "It was a good time to sit in the space and get everything set up, and run through the show."

While there, they had a little time to soak up some local culture, including Owensboro's famous barbecue.

Douglas is no stranger to the Lexington Opera House, having visited here a couple of times with touring productions early in his stage career.

"I remember it as being a great old theater," says Douglas, who has not been back since the Opera House underwent its most recent renovations.

And no doubt many Lexingtonians have seen their own Drowsy Chaperones at the Opera House.

If only we could get the same kind of performance out of our TVs.