BY CARY GINELL
Playing a character is hard enough for many actors and actresses who are starting out in musical theater, but The Drowsy Chaperone throws its performers a curve because of the complicated nature of the show. A cloistered record collector, the character known only as Man in Chair, shares his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, with the audience, and as he talks about it, the characters come alive in front of them. But Man in Chair is also talking about the actors who play the characters in the faux musical. This causes a triple-layered dilemma for anyone who plays in the show because they have to fold two characters into their own personalities. We talked with three of the show’s stars, who are all theater arts students at California Lutheran University. Kevin Repich is a third year Communications and Theater Arts major who is also in the college’s Improv Troupe. Malissa Marlow, also a junior, is a Thousand Oaks High School graduate who has already appeared in productions of Spring Awakening (as Martha), Night of the Living Dead (as Corpse on the Stairs – really!), and Songs for a New World (Woman 1). Leah Dalrymple, also from Thousand Oaks High, is making her musical debut at CLU, but has received a Vee-Cee award for her performance as Fran Kubelik in Promises, Promises at Moorpark College. We talked with all three this week about this very funny show, which is packing in audiences at the CLU Black Box Theater.
VCOS: Man in Chair has got to be the only leading man in musical history who doesn’t sing. How does that fit you, Kevin?
KEVIN: I’ve got to say, I was very excited to get that part because I don’t sing very much. I wouldn’t say it’s one of my strong suits, so when I found out that Cal Lu was doing The Drowsy Chaperone, I said to myself, “Ooh. Man in Chair! That’s for me.” I was actually studying abroad last semester and I taped my audition when I was in Paris and I sent it to [director] Ken Gardner and he cast me from that. I was very jazzed about that. I saw The Drowsy Chaperone at ACTF in Utah last year and I kind of fell in love with the part.
VCOS: What was that ACTF Man in Chair like and how do you make it your own?
KEVIN: He played the character a little more straightforward than I do, and he also spoke very quickly and that was one thing I felt I had to improve on. I think I made the character a little bit more flamboyant. He was very, very good, but I felt that since we have a smaller theater space, I needed to smile more and show that this is my favorite musical and really have fun with it.
VCOS: Now, we have to be careful with the word “flamboyant” these days. Is that what you mean?
KEVIN: Oh, that’s true. I kind of mean it both ways. I think I wanted to make it very evident that Man in Chair comes off as gay in my reading of it, although I felt there were few instances where that becomes funny for the audience. I say at one point to the audience, “Are you surprised I was married?” And then I talk about my wife and how the relationship ended poorly. I think it makes it easier to justify how obsessed he is with Robert, the main character. And then, flamboyant as well because I picture this guy as a man who hates the real world and likes to prance around his apartment, singing and dancing with his records, imagining the characters around him.
VCOS: When I watched your performance, two words came to mind: eager and affable. You really were trying to connect with the audience and share your passion not just for the show but for your record collection. Other performances I’ve seen, Man in Chair is sharing. I’m a record collector myself and I find myself proselytizing all the time, not in a flamboyant manner, but sharing my excitement over my hobby with people. So, in your portrayal, is Man in Chair in love with records or is it just a tool he uses to share his love for this show?
KEVIN: I think he’s in love with records, which shows in our set decoration, which has Playbills on the walls and his huge record collection within arm’s reach of his chair. You can tell how often he listens to them. The record player is also within arm’s reach so you can tell he doesn’t have to get up very often.
MALISSA: And he has disdain for every other technology – the telephone is on the opposite side of the stage.
VCOS: A good point!
KEVIN: The first chance I get, I rip it out of the wall. The one real character who comes into his apartment is the super and I don’t really have any patience for him so I think this shows his character. He’s clearly had relationships in the past that have failed, so I wonder how long he’s really been in his apartment, alone. He talks about his mother a lot, so maybe that was the last deep relationship he had.
VCOS: He’s almost like Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam, where he imagines Humphrey Bogart coming into his life and talking to him.
KEVIN: We had an ACTF adjudicator come in last night, and she said that she saw a lot of Woody Allen in my character.
LEAH: I didn’t think about that until she said that.
KEVIN: Yeah, a lot of people said, “Oh, yeah!” It’s funny you should say that.
VCOS: Or The Purple Rose of Cairo, where the characters in a movie walk right off the screen and start having a conversation with the people in the audience.
KEVIN: That’s interesting. I”ll have to check that out.
VCOS: Now what about your character, Malissa? What’s she like?
MALISSA: Janet is this showgirl who loves to entertain and her head’s in the clouds and seems very one-dimensional. But then she finds this guy, Robert, and immediately falls in love, like in a typical musical. So she decides to leave her career and marry this guy even though she still loves performing. In “Show Off,” she sings about not wanting to show off – as she’s showing off. But she’s just a lot of fun. I just like her diva personality.
VCOS: Janet does not have much depth, because she’s not supposed to. She’s just this character in this show. How do you add any kind of dimension to this person? Or should you?
MALISSA: I try to make her a little more sarcastic, especially with the Chaperone, because Jane Roberts, who is the actress playing Janet, is probably that way. I’m an actress playing an actress playing a character. So you have Janet, the ingenue, and then you have Jane, who’s this up-and-coming rising star who has to compete with the well-established Beatrice, who plays the Chaperone. So I wanted certain times where the Jane shows up – she gets a little frustrated but still has to stay in character as Janet.
VCOS: It’s hard when you have a show within a show within a show.
VCOS: Tell me about your costume changes in “Show Off.”
MALISSA: Noelle Raffy did the costumes; she just did Children of Eden for Cabrillo. But at first, I didn’t think it was going to happen. We went through different trials and errors – you know, which costume do I wear at the beginning of the song and then what do I change into and how? We knew that I was going to wear a robe and then reveal something else. But then I had to go behind an umbrella and change into the next costume in like two seconds. We also knew that there had to be a bathing suit in there somewhere because it all takes place at this swimming pool. So we ended up having me put on the bathing suit and then the dress over that and then the robe over that. And I’d shuck the robe, and then when I get behind the umbrella, one of the girls would wrap it, pull it over my head in just enough time before the umbrella went up. The hardest change was getting into the “encore dress” at the end because the bathing suit comes off and the encore dress goes on with only two people helping me do that change. So it’s all about running it and getting that muscle memory going.
VCOS: How many costumes do you end up wearing during that number?
VCOS: Anything go wrong yet?
MALISSA: Not during the show. I think I wear ten costumes altogether, and this is all supposed to take place in one day.
LEAH: She even changes costumes during one of my songs.
VCOS: Okay, Leah, tell me about you and Drowsy.
LEAH: She’s probably my favorite character that I’ve ever played. I think that I’ve been slowly building up to playing this character in my resume. I used to be super-introverted, you know, the bookworm who is afraid of everything. But through theater, I kind of found my way to get out of my shell and this character has been so much fun for me. She’s so free and genuinely an easy character to play because I can do whatever I want because she’s not integral to Janet’s story line and doesn’t really have a reason to be anywhere. As it turns out, she’s really the linch pin for the show, according to the Man in Chair. It’s very important to him that she’s there. I’m not exactly sure if Janet bases her decision on what I say or not (laughs) but I don’t know.
VCOS: What is the correlation between Drowsy and Beatrice, the actress who plays her?
LEAH: I think you mostly see Beatrice. The other day, a student reporter came up to me and said, “So, what’s your objective as the chaperone? What was she doing before she was hired to be the chaperone?” And I thought, maybe she was a coat hanger for Janet backstage.
KEVIN: She demands that the song “As We Stumble Along” gets put in the show.
LEAH: Right. Beatrice Stockwell gets put in this part and she decides, “This is too small for me” so she gets her own number, so I feel the character is mostly Beatrice.
VCOS: So who’s the bigger diva?
LEAH & MALISSA: Oh, Beatrice, for sure.
MALISSA: Jane tries. She’s aspiring to be a star but she’s still starting out and is no match for Beatrice.
In Part 2 of our interview, we continue as Kevin, Malissa, and Leah talk about The Drowsy Chaperone and their own status as they pursue a life in theater. For our review of the show, see this week’s Acorn when it comes out on Thursday. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.