The Drowsy Chaperone opened this fall to reviews that any Broadway musical would crave (and so far this season, none have received). A show within a show, The Drowsy Chaperone takes place in a theatre enthusiast's mind, not to mention his dingy apartment, as he revels in the eponymous musical and is transported to the 1920s. “The interesting thing about designing this show is, in effect, it is an idealized vision of a 1920s musical,” says set designer David Gallo. “But you're not just finding an approach based on what scenery looked like in the 1920s because, by today's standards, I don't think that stuff would actually work. It's idealized because the show's happening in the man's mind, so it's his vision of what a 20s musical would look like.”
To accurately portray a show of that era, Gallo looked to legendary set designer Joseph Urban, who from the teens to the 30s was the go-to guy of his day for everything from the Ziegfeld Follies to the New York Metropolitan Opera. “It was interesting being interpreters of the past, getting into the head of a great artist like Joseph Urban and bringing that to the modern stage,” Gallo says.
As the show's protagonist plays the original score to his favorite musical, the fantasy of The Drowsy Chaperone is happening inside the reality of Hell's Kitchen. “The curtain goes up, and you see a fully realistic dingy gray apartment, and the show starts happening inside his apartment,” Gallo says. “We have dusty carpet or an old sofa get pushed aside by some glorious rhinestone-encrusted piece of scenery, or roll drops descend out of the flys into this man's living room. There's this transference where we start off in the apartment, but as he gets more absorbed by this musical he loves, he is transported to the land of the musical.”
Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, the rest of the design team includes costumes by Gregg Barnes and lighting by Ken Billington and Brian Monahan. The Drowsy Chaperone played at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles through December 24 but is rumored to be headed to Broadway in the new year.