On Saturday, when the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre premieres its musical The Drowsy Chaperone, there won’t be the usual opening overture or dance number. There will be a man in a chair who wants to escape to a world never seen before onstage.
Bob Ahlersmeyer says he’s never had a role quite like Man in Chair.
He’s a very passionate individual, but in the real world he’s very sheltered. He can truly live in the magical world of his records, Ahlersmeyer says.
The Drowsy Chaperone, which is a more polite way of saying the tipsy chaperone, is a musical within a comedy and stuffs jazz-age horns, mix-ups and mayhem into one show with no intermission.
The entire show takes place in the apartment of the character only known as Man in Chair, a mousy Broadway enthusiast who is feeling inexplicably blue. To cheer up, he plays a recording of his favorite 1928 musical The Drowsy Chaperone. As the musical comes to life, the audience travels back to the 1920s Broadway of flashy costumes and quirky dance numbers.
It’s a ride all the way through to the end, says Phillip Colglazier, Civic Theatre executive director.
Ahlersmeyer, a Fort Wayne native who has been cast in more than 15 local productions – seven being with the Civic Theatre – says he had never heard of the musical before auditioning, but fell in love with the character after reading the script. He found similarities between himself and the character.
Acting for me is like the Man in Chair, he says. It gives you a chance to escape from your real life for a few hours.
Unlike Man in Chair, however, Ahlersmeyer has a wife and two children he returns to after a performance. Ahlersmeyer says that since Man in Chair doesn’t have any family, he wants to stay in his fantasy world longer.
It’s a very lonely role, he says.
Unlike his usual roles, Ahlersmeyer will perform mostly to the audience. He says the challenge is acting without having other actors to interact with, but that the role gives him a chance to alter his performance.
The Drowsy Chaperone does not follow the usual musical format. As Man in Chair likes to remind the audience, they are not watching the real musical. In place of the usual intermission, he replaces the first record with another record that plays the second act.
It’s like nothing you’ve seen before on stage, Ahlersmeyer says. The songs are just so silly. There’s no theme that connects one song to another.
Colglazier says the two-act musical without an intermission is a great benefit to the show since it does not allow the audience to escape from the fantasy world.
It keeps the audience engaged, he says. They don’t have to be reintroduced to the show after the intermission. It keeps the momentum going clear to the end.