story by Christine Coester, special to The City Wire
SPRINGDALE — The arts center that started it all, the Arts Center of the Ozarks, kicks off its 46th season this weekend with the side-splitting, Tony Award-winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone.
Show dates are Friday through Sunday (July 6-8 ) and July 12-15 with a gala debut Friday night. Opening night tickets include heavy hors d'oeuvres and a dessert and champagne intermission.
The Drowsy Chaperone, with book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, is a parody of the popular 1920s American musical comedies. The story takes up as a pining modern day musical theater addict turns to his favorite record, The Drowsy Chaperone, as a source of comfort. To his surprise, the cast and performers magically appear on stage, where toe-tapping music, dancing and boy-meets-girl romance quickly follow.
The musical debuted in 1998 at The Rivoli in Toronto and opened on Broadway in May 2006. It won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score. The Broadway production window card called it “A musical within a comedy,” and with good reason.
“It is absolutely one of the most entertaining musicals I’ve seen in a long time,” said Harry Blundell, who is directing ACO’s rendition of The Drowsy Chaperone. “The songs are all a throwback in flavor and feeling to the great entertainment value musicals of the ‘20s and ‘30s.”
With a cast of 23 (13 with speaking parts), the lineup is smaller than usual for ACO. But Blundell promises the group is “very strong and the musical is within our talent range.”
“It was quite a decision to have a smaller cast and a risk because the more people you have involved with the performance, inevitably the more tickets you sell,” Blundell added.
Blundell has been holding rehearsals five nights a week, lasting up to two hours. However, as opening night approaches, “it’s not unusual for there to be some three-hour rehearsals as [they] reach tech and dress rehearsals.”
Lead roles include Evan Crawford as The Drowsy Chaperone and Roger Crawford as the Man in the Chair. The married couple dubbed the “Crawford Clan,” met each other through their work at ACO.
Speaking of her role as “Drowsy,” Evan Crawford said: “[She’s] hilarious and a diva, so you can’t help loving her.” Crawford’s biggest challenge — singing and dancing in character.
Roger Crawford’s biggest obstacle — keeping his composure during rehearsals.
“It’s most challenging trying to keep a straight face during the show. I’m not kidding, this show is funny,” he said.
He said he “accidentally fell in love with the show” after listening to it with Evan. He was drawn to the way it gives “Broadway musicals a sort of ‘kick in the pants,’” and yet demands such talent to perform the musical numbers.
“I really like that it is a show for the non-musical person ... and the Man in the Chair walks the audience through the show in a very funny way. His commentary is filled with cynical quips, humorous anecdotes, and great insights about each character’s checkered past,” he said.
The musical also stars Alex Cardiel as Robert Martin and Rebecca Rollene as Janet Van Der Graaf. Their parts are the romantic thread that runs through the show.
Jennifer Simmons is leading the design of costumes for the performance. She’s been working with ACO for eight years but found herself facing new challenges when preparing for The Drowsy Chaperone.
“There is a scene where the female lead changes six times while on stage using lots of gimmicky tricks. One trick where she twirls out of the costume and another where she changes behind an umbrella in five seconds,” Simmons said.
With at least 25 pieces to be made from scratch, Simmons, staff and some volunteers have been working nearly every day and are taking their work home. Hand-making unique costumes that are aberrant from the original Broadway performance is “challenging but fun and interesting,” Simmons said.
Bass player Richard Lee, one of several musicians who make up the orchestra for the musical, said the most rewarding part of performing with the ACO is that the theater group feels like family.
“Many of the people in the pit and on the stage are people I met way back when — and they are always welcoming, always smiling,” said Lee. “I think everyone is doing this for the love of it.”
Tickets to the show are available by calling (479)-751-5441 or visiting here.
Auditions for ACO’s next show, The Queen of Bingo will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 6 & 7. Show dates for The Queen of Bingo are Sept. 7-9 and Sept. 14-15.