Production: “The Drowsy Chaperone” (Working In The Theatre #342)

It is not often that a wedding present becomes
a Broadway musical. It is also very rare that a completely Canadian musical reaches Broadway.
(LAUGHTER) But in the case of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, that is exactly what’s happened. The new
musical DROWSY CHAPERONE is both an homage and a parody to classic musicals from the
1920’s, and today, we’re going to spend time finding out about how that show came
to the stage. We have a tremendous panel of people who have
been part of making this show happen. Let me introduce them all to you now. First, we
begin with Roy Miller, one of the show’s producers. Then we have Greg Morrison, music
and lyrics. Lisa Lambert, music and lyrics. Bob Martin, book writer and also leading actor,
playing the Man in the Chair. Casey Nicholaw, who is both the director and the choreographer.
Don McKellar, also writer of the book of the show. And finally, Kevin McCollum, another
of the show’s producers. We’ll be joined later in the program by two members of the
company of DROWSY CHAPERONE, as well. I hope that my opening was sufficiently tantalizing
to have people say, “A wedding present?” (LAUGHTER) So I want to turn to the man whose
wedding became THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. And Bob, if you can just tell us the story of your
friends ganging up to celebrate your wedding, you and Janet Van De Graaff. Yes. Well, I want to correct you, first of
all. In Canada, it’s quite common for wedding gifts to become Broadway musicals. (LAUGHTER)
Get that out right away. No, it has been an extraordinary journey. And it started – I
was getting married in 1998, to my wife, Janet Van De Graaff, who’s an actress. And I asked
Lisa Lambert, who was my best man, to – Is that also common in Canada? (LAUGHTER) I don’t think so. I think it was a unique
thing! And I asked her to take care of the stag – or bachelor, bachelorette party,
as you Americans call it. And I asked her to take care of the entertainment. And so,
she really told me nothing about what she was planning. And then Janet and I saw an
ad in a local paper for a show at a club in downtown Toronto called the Rivoli, and the
show was called OH, WHAT A PAIR, which was a kind of an inside joke about a fake show
title that we had suggested for (LAUGHS) an awkwardly titled show. (LAUGHTER FROM THE
PANEL) Oh, it’s a hilarious joke amongst my friends! (LAUGHTER) But the evening was called, OH, WHAT A PAIR,
and it consisted of two acts, the first act being sort of stand-up routines and sort of
little comic sort of moments where friends from the theatre community and comedy community
sort of did a little tribute to myself and my wife. And then the second half was something
called THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, which was about forty minutes long, and it was basically a
twenties musical. Fully costumed! And it was read, and it was Lisa and Don,
who had cooked this whole thing up? Yeah, it was the three of us, plus there was,
like, a group of comedy people and theatre people who are friends of ours in Toronto,
who were part of this whole thing, too. We all kind of cooked it up together. And originally thought of as being a one-night
event? Yeah, yeah. Unless you were to get remarried. (LAUGHTER) Right, yeah! It was originally thought of as sort of a
one-off thing. You know, our little community of people, we used to create sort of fake
musicals. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Just as a hobby? Well, we were all performers, and we would
perform them at places like the Rivoli and at the Fringe Festival – you have a New
York Fringe, and our Toronto Fringe is very similar to that. So we would do little shows
like that. DROWSY CHAPERONE, though, came simply out of love (LAUGHS) from my friends,
directed at us. But I think that’s one of the reasons why it was so good, when we first
saw it, because the humor was not directed at any particular market, but at our own circle
of friends. And Janet and I saw it, and said, “Well, we want to do something with this
show. We want to share it.” So we sort of expanded it for the Fringe of Toronto. Don
and I wrote a book, which then included the character of Man in Chair, who narrates this
show and provides a perspective on the musical. I think we realized when we saw it that, like
we said, it was for the community and it was a weird little stand-alone musical. And we
thought it was very funny, but we realized that we needed some perspective on it for
other people to understand and to allow them to laugh at it. So Lisa and I came up with
this idea of Bob actually being in it, because of course he wasn’t in it originally. Well, I was going to say, was it a case of,
you know, you did this wonderful thing for him and Janet, and then one day he turned
to you and said, “But I have some notes” or – (LAUGHTER) Well, kind of, he did say that. Well, no, he was joking. Yeah, he came on
stage at the Rivoli after the show, and said, “What a wonderful show! I have some notes.” That’s just the kind of person I am. (LAUGHTER) That’s just the kind of fantastic person
he is. No, actually, we had to sort of force him to play this part (BOB LAUGHS), because
when we expanded the show for the Fringe, we thought we would just write in some more
quirky 1920’s characters and, you know, Bob would play a mentalist or something, you
know. And then, it was like, “No, somebody has to be funny here.” The minister! The rector, I think, would have
been the obvious choice. Oh, that’s true. Let’s take a moment and explain that the
premise of the show is that we’re watching a diehard fan of classic musicals, alone in
his apartment, the Man in the Chair, played by Bob, who begins to play for us, the audience,
selections from this classic musical of the twenties, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. And to be
clear, there is no such musical! No. There is now! (LAUGHTER) Exactly! Or is there? Does P.D.Q. Bach exist? So what
was the process? Because if it was just songs from this fake musical, how did you all begin
to say, “Okay, let’s layer more on it”? Well, we had had discussions like that before
we created THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. We had had discussions about how do we present musical
material from that period without it just appearing to be parody? Because we weren’t
interested in doing a parody of musicals of the twenties. And so, we always wanted to
provide some kind of perspective on the musical material we were presenting. And so, we came
up with this idea of an avid theatre fan as a way to sort of deconstruct entertainment
of that period and compare to contemporary musical theatre. So it sort of – you have
to understand, I wasn’t resistant because I didn’t get it. I knew you got it! I was resistant because the show was so good,
I didn’t want to distract – I literally thought that people would be going, “Oh,
shut up! We want to watch the numbers!” (LAUGHTER) And that didn’t turn out to be
the case. Well, in its very earliest form, was there
a book, or was it simply a series of songs? There was a book. Oh, it was an actual little book musical.
It was a really strange anomaly. I think people imagine, “Oh, it was at a bachelor party.
It was probably just skits with strippers and things like that.” It wasn’t like
that. It was really weird. It just shows what a weird group of friends we were. It was an
actual musical, with a book. And basically, the plot of the musical you see now, and the
same characters, basically. Pretty much the same. Now, the product has
changed dramatically, obviously, since then. And there are only two musical numbers from
the original gift that are still in the show any more. Yeah. So in fact, there is cut material from THE
DROWSY CHAPERONE that could then be unearthed. Reams! Reams of cut material! (LAUGHTER) Yes. Because this has been an eight-year journey.
And the Broadway version of the show is really a complete – it’s completely re-conceived,
in many ways. And it’s what – early on, in the journey, in the development of this
show, we knew that in order for this show to truly be effective, the musical within
the show had to be fully realized with great voices, great dancers, great costumes. And
also, the set of the show, we realized that the man’s world had to transform to the
musical world. And not to give too much away about it – are we supposed to give stuff
away about the show at this point? It’s opened at this point [when the show airs]. It has opened, yes. Okay, okay. But yeah, so – But we did do other productions, it should
be said. We did a remount at a sort of awkward Broadway-type theatre in Toronto. And then
we did a fairly big production at Wintergarden Theatre in Toronto. And each one, we really
drastically revised and adapted. But oddly enough, the natural place was probably the
end place, which was Broadway, because it was about a man imagining Broadway. So it’s
a strange outside perspective. And you said it was Canadian, but I think, you know, it’s
Canadian in that we’re Canadian, the writers, but it’s not really a Canadian show, because
we have American money! (LAUGHTER) And we have an American director, obviously. Creative team, yeah. But we have also – we really re-created
it, in a way, for this cast for Broadway, which was something we could only, of course,
sort of suggest or imagine or – so instead of being this sort of fantasy about Broadway,
it became this kind of re-creation of Broadway. Well, before we get into where it is now,
I want to spend a few more minutes talking about how it moved along. In terms of the
song writing for the show, you said, Bob, that you didn’t want it to be a parody of
American musicals. But were there models that you were looking at? How did you look at shows
of that period? And were you trying to do very specific shows, or was it just a feeling
that you immersed yourself in cast albums of things like VERY GOOD EDDIE? It was broader, at first. I mean, that’s,
if anything, the biggest evolution of, I think, the score is that it was – probably the
original score actually spanned greater periods. You know, the songs were more like a forties
song or a thirties song or a twenties song. And as the show developed, that was one of
the things that the score honed more into, identifying specifically as a 1928 show. So
that was a big element of the show. I mean, one of the things we loved about the
period was that there isn’t a lot of documentation, of course. People obviously haven’t seen
the show, I trust. No one’s seen a lot of shows from the twenties themselves. And of
course, there are not really a lot of cast albums. There are no really intact cast albums
for that exact period, at least American ones. And there’s not even films, really. There
are just beginning to be films suggesting that period, the films of GOOD NEWS and, you
know, HEADS UP. And there’s a couple, COCONUTS or ANIMAL CRACKERS, things like that. But
there are very few actual real documents. And that was, of course, very liberating for
the writers, because we were able to suggest it. And this show is really about an evocation.
We’re seeing the show through the ears of this man, imagining what it might have been
like. So yeah, we didn’t – I mean, we researched. There was a time – We’re seeing the show through the ears of
this man! Yes. I never actually heard it described that way.
It’s good. It’s good! I mean, we’re seeing – you know, there
was a time I was reading Guy Bolton librettos and things like that, and there are some influences
from shows and certainly influences from movies of the period. Yeah, movies. But it’s not an archival thing. It’s not
an academic piece. No. Yeah. And as it was moving along on its journey
in these venues in Canada, because clearly there is a new creative team here for the
American production. It began out at the Ahmanson and is now here on Broadway. Who was directing
the show at that time? How was it being developed? Were you primarily guiding it yourselves,
or were there other people involved? No, we had a series of directors. The first
– the Toronto Fringe production was directed by a man named Steve Morel, who is also part
of our company of performers. He had directed, as well. The second, Off-Broadway style, [at
the Theatre] Passe Muraille, was directed by Sandy Balcovske, who was a director at
Second City, where I came from. And so, she was working with the comedians in that sense.
And that particular staging actually we discovered quite a bit. And then Wintergarden was directed
by – I guess you’d describe him as an avant garde theatre director in Toronto named
Daniel Brooks. And so, that was an odd production! (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Well, you seem to – I think you’re suggesting something that
is a little more – BOB MARTIN
I was naked! (LAUGHTER) But you say that you discovered things. What
were the discoveries along the way? What did you find from where it began to where you
wanted to take it? Well, at each stage – yes, go ahead. A lot of it is that we just really started
fleshing out the score more and more, which is sort of – And working with that particular cast. I mean,
that’s how we developed the show, too. It’s honed a lot to the people who are performing
the roles, which is very much the style of the piece itself. So that certainly had a
lot of influence on it, as we were developing the characters. But we sort of write in an odd way, which
has been preserved right up to the Broadway thing, in that we all sort of contribute.
We all sit around and come up with ideas. And Greg and Lisa have an influence on the
script, and I daresay Bob and I have an influence on the songs. Somewhat, yeah. (LISA LAUGHS) A little small, small little bit. So – And Casey, too, is now a writer in this show. And of course, each time we worked with the
directors. And particularly in this case with Casey, I would say. And I would say, actually,
one of the biggest evolutions is the character of the Man in Chair, which is really – we
realized early on that he was really the lead character. And in a way, his story is the
real arc, the story arc for this script. And we’ve really been honing that throughout. It’s like a one-man show with a musical
in it. In a way, yeah. That’s right. In a way. And part of the fun of the show is the story
within the musical is actually very slight. The story of his life – Intentionally! (LAUGHS) Yeah, intentionally, totally. (LAUGHTER) Yes,
that’s right. The story of the man is extremely complicated, really. And we only give a hint
of it, of the sort of things that have happened in his life and how he got to the point – It’s a funny thing. It’s a sort of covert
storytelling. We’re just suggesting things about him. And by the end, you realize, “Oh,
I really know that guy pretty well!” (LAUGHTER) I guess what we’re saying is, it’s really
quite a brilliant show. (LAUGHTER) And it also provides a wonderful opportunity
for the sequel, MAN ON COUCH. (LAUGHTER) Very exciting. MAN IN HOSPITAL BED. (LAUGHTER) Well, this seems an opportune moment to take
a moment and give our audience a little glimpse, its first glimpse, of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. I can’t wait. Exciting! Yes!
[BREAK; IRRELEVANT MATERIAL NOT TRANSCRIBED] Now I’d like to bring in more of our panel.
And I think, Roy, you are the natural panel to bring in next. You are an American producer.
You’re on the staff of Paper Mill Playhouse. And you heard about a show in Toronto. And
as you said to me before we began today, many producers have a hard time going twenty miles
to see a new musical. What drew you up to Toronto? And which incarnation was it that
you went to see? I saw the third incarnation, the third and
final Canada production at the Wintergarden, that the Mirvishes produced. And I was sent
an invitation from the Mirvishes to come up and see it. And I think the headline from
one of the reviews was, “Is CHAPERONE Broadway bound?” And I read the first paragraph and
it completely intrigued me. It wasn’t like anything I had ever seen or heard about before.
And it was simply the conceit of the show, in that a man puts his favorite record, his
favorite cast recording on his record player, and it comes to life in his apartment, in
his mind. And I thought, “How interesting! I would love to personally see how that plays
out,” all the while thinking, “I can’t imagine that this isn’t too inside for a
mainstream audience.” So I went up there because I thought, “Well,
the reviews are terrific, but I’m also very curious to see how a full audience reacts
to it.” So I flew up there in July of 2002 and saw the final weekend, the final performances,
and saw the audiences reacting, similar to how they’re reacting now, which was quite,
quite good. And I went backstage, met the four of these fellows here, and they were
being – they were in a brief meeting with their stage manager, who was reprimanding
them because the show went twenty minutes over, with adlibbing and whatnot. (LAUGHTER
FROM THE PANEL) And I was just overwhelmed with the show, and I had said to them, “You
could have gone on for three hours. I thought it was terrific.” So I came back to New York and endeavored
to secure the rights. But as much as I loved the show, I had always recognized that it
really is about the Man in the Chair. And I spoke with their agent, and I said, “I
would love to try to secure the rights, but I really don’t want to do the show unless
I have some sort of good faith agreement with Bob Martin that he would be willing to star
in the show on Broadway, if we were ever so lucky to get there.” That was a hard decision to make. (LAUGHTER) A tortured weekend for Bob! But I didn’t want to find out after the
fact that he wasn’t interested, because I never would have gone after the rights otherwise. Let me interrupt and ask you, were there other
producers seeking the rights? Were you in competition? Were you fending off other offers
on the show? Now we can be finally be honest, yeah. (LAUGHTER) Because I’m happy to say, I did not have
any idea who else was going after the rights, and it probably would have made me a nervous
wreck if I knew. But honestly, I never cared to ask the question after I got the rights.
So if you know something, tell us now or forever hold your peace! Well, not really. Actually, there was some
discussion, I would say. There were a few people. There were a few people who were – yeah,
yeah. There were a few people sniffing around. People with guns. People with guns, yeah. Yeah. But Roy was definitely our preferred
choice. So you got the rights in 2002, and what was
the process? Once you had the rights, how did you go about development? Well, part of the process was frustrating
for me, because I was producing six shows a year out at Paper Mill. And right after
I secured the rights, I was in the process of bringing I’M NOT RAPPAPORT to Broadway,
with Judd Hirsch and Ben Vereen. And I had told them that this is going to slow things
down a little bit for me, but once we got past RAPPAPORT and I started ramping up again,
I had shopped the show around. I knew I wanted to do it in one or two regional
theatres to see how a U.S. audience would react to it. I knew it was probably not the
best choice for Paper Mill, simply because of its close proximity to New York. So I sent
it to Michael Ritchie, who was up at Williamstown Theatre Festival at the time, and a number
of other folks. I sent it to Kevin a few years ago. And also, just out of idle curiosity,
I put it into the National Alliance of Music Theatre Festival for consideration. And let’s take a second and just explain
what that is, for the people who don’t know. The National Alliance of Musical Theatre is
an organization that supports companies that do musical theatre throughout the country,
and they do a festival, an industry festival, each year, of typically eight to twelve new
musicals presented in truncated form, entirely for people in the industry. So it’s not
the Fringe festival, it’s not performance-based. It’s really a bit of an industry bazaar
for new material. Right. So that came about in what year? When would that [have been]? That was about
two years [ago]? 2004. 2004. And I really wanted to put in there
so that my colleagues could look at this and tell me if I was crazy or not. And I was successful
in pretty much getting everyone from the industry, not just the regional theatres from around
the country that are members of NAMT, but my commercial colleagues as well. And it was
a wonderful phenomenon, to see the reaction that came from that room, in those two performances,
not only from the audience of theatre lovers, but producing peers. And they actually had
to cut the presentation short, because it went over so long, which caused a little more
– Because of laughter, yes. Because of laughter and applause. Yes, point that out. (LAUGHTER) Which was a great reason to have to cut us
off. So that’s how it all came to be, and Kevin came to see the reading, and a number
of other folks. Well, before we get Kevin onto it, in the
period between the time you picked up the rights, were you working? Was there more development?
You had said you really wanted to have Bob as part of the show, but were there script
issues? Were there score issues that you were working on, with the team? Well, we hadn’t really brought anyone to
the table. We hadn’t identified a director or any of those folks. So no, there was talk
amongst ourselves, and they took what they had learned from Canada and were rethinking
things. But when we were chosen for the NAMT festival, the immediate thought was, “We’ve
got to get a director to do this!” And there wasn’t enough time. We pretty much had to
cast it without the authors’ input, because they were up in Toronto. So it was all just
a shot. And the company – The work we did do was reducing the script
for that performance, which is actually a very valuable exercise. It was a valuable exercise, because we realized
there was a lot of things that we didn’t mind cutting much. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL)
I mean, it’s true. Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. But I didn’t think that that was a good
time to start exploring directors. I wanted New York audiences to see what I experienced
in Canada, so I asked Bob if he would be able and willing to direct this 45-minute presentation,
which he did, basically get it back up to the speed of what I saw. And that’s pretty
much it. And the people who were cast in that, I mean,
there are people who were in that presentation who are in the show now, even though they
were literally cast, and they get paid really nothing for doing a presentation at NAMT,
you put them into it. And how many of the people stayed with it? I remember Georgia
Engel. Georgia Engel and Danny Burstein. Who were in it originally. So Kevin, like
me, you went to one of those presentations at NAMT, and what was your response to it? Well, my story starts a little earlier, when
I took a restraining order out on Roy (ROY LAUGHS) for constantly hounding me about a
show called THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. And I said, “Oh, it’s THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. Yes, it’s
here on my desk, and it looks delightful! But I don’t know – ” And it really sat
there for a year, because I was busy with other things. AVENUE Q was going on, really right in the
midst of this. We were just moving into previews of AVENUE
Q, and I had heard about DROWSY CHAPERONE from the Mirvishes earlier, because I also
ran a large not-for-profit in St. Paul, Minnesota, called the Ordway Center for the Performing
Arts, and I had heard about this production, but I could not get to Toronto at that time.
And I saw Roy, one of the – we had talked together as colleagues many times. And finally,
the day before, he saw me at a restaurant, and he said, “You know, I’m doing this
thing tomorrow,” and I said, “Yes.” He says, “You know, it’s at 11:15, can
you come?” and I said, “Okay, okay, sure.” Because I felt bad that it had been sitting
on my desk, and I needed to come see it. And I sat there, and I – I – I was just
– I went in – I just watched this thing, and I fell in love with the heart of who the
Man in Chair was, and the fact that it – I didn’t find it to be a parody at all. I
found it to be a window into every human being, in terms of what defines themselves. And I
think that’s the power of this show, is that it’s about definition of self, and
how art and life have to cohabitate, to inspire you to keep going. And I felt – I saw this
whole meta-thing about what life is. And maybe I’m nuts – No. But I really said, “Oh, my goodness, this
is not about musical theatre. This is about the tools we need to survive!” And I got
very excited about that idea and all the levels it was playing. And just to say, for this
45-minute presentation, I – it was very choppy, it was very episodic, in terms of
structure. And no offense, it just was. It was like, “Okay, that’s good.” But I
didn’t find myself laughing, as much as just sort of doing calculations in my head
of where my emotion was going. And I – and then, because everyone was laughing
so much, they weren’t able to finish the 45-minute presentation. So there was no ending!
All of a sudden, some lovely young woman stepped down and said, “I’m sorry. To be fair
to all the other NAMT things, we’re going to have to stop right now!” (DON LAUGHS)
And it was just not over! And there was rioting and some beatings. (LAUGHTER) And I thought,
“Oh, good! That can get some advertising!” And anyway, I fell in love with it, and I
rushed down to the stage and said, “You know, Roy, give me a call. I see what you’re
talking about now. I understand it.” And a week later – that next night, I met
the authors, and we had a nice, nice sort of meeting of emotional minds. And I said,
“This is great, this is a great idea. Yes, it could go to Broadway, I think, but we really
need to find the right director. That has to be – it can’t – you know, don’t
do any more work on it until we really find a director,” because I have a certain theory
about musicals, where they must start on the earth, end in the heavens, be about a community,
and must be driven by love. Those are my three [rules]. And I felt the Man in Chair and who
he was, we really needed to, like, explore, because I wanted to know – he’s – I
felt he was Everyman, and all these other – oh, this is – that’s what excited
me. So, naturally, then the question is, when
did you fix upon Casey? When did you join the team? The longest introduction ever. (LAUGHTER) Oh, good, I get to talk now! (LAUGHTER) I’m trying to throw it to you right now! That was good. That was nice! Let’s just
start with – For many people, Casey’s name first became
particularly well-known for his work last year, on SPAMALOT, as the choreographer. How’s that show doing? Is that – It seems like it’ll run! (LAUGHTER) But
the question is, were you – had you involved Casey in this as director and choreographer
prior to SPAMALOT? Or was this a case of, “Ooh, here’s a hot show, maybe he’s
a good guy for us”? You know, everyone has a different recollection,
perhaps. Well, let’s hear all of them. Oh,yeah. Well, we had – just because – when,
you know, Roy and I talked about this, one of the most important things that maybe people
don’t understand is I run away from shows that are basically fully done, and “Here’s
the team, don’t you want to be the producer?” And I’m like, “No, then I’m not collaborating.”
So in the collaborative process, I think we introduced you to five or six directors. Some
were directors, some were director-choreographers. And we all felt that it needed – the show
had never danced. And I saw that if it’s going to be about the twenties, this show
better dance! I mean, a lot of the script is inspired by
Astaire-Rogers movies, and it was always an obvious hole. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Yes. And from what I understand, because I
didn’t see any pictures. I stayed away from every image from the Canadian productions,
not out of any disservice, but just so I, at least, could maybe be a voice with a clean
slate and have no understanding of what that was, except that it did well. And finally, we called Casey, and I had worked
with Casey – I had known Casey from CRAZY FOR YOU, when he was a performer, and I was
around that show because I was the booking agent for that show. And then I had hired
him when I was at the Ordway to choreograph a production of PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, which
I thought he did brilliant work, and I found his choreography always was character-driven.
And since this was a group of characters I had never met the likes of before, I thought
it might be a good mix. And Roy and I brought you guys down, and we called before. But our
first meeting was, when? It was – well, first of all, Kevin called
me on the phone and proceeded to read the script to me over the phone! (LAUGHTER FROM
THE PANEL) (POINTS TO BOB) I’m his understudy! He goes, “You gotta hear the first part
of this! You gotta hear it!” And he read the first couple speeches, and I thought it
was fantastic. My first meeting was the morning after SPAMALOT opened. So there was an opening
night party and everything, and I knew that I had to get up for an eleven o’clock meeting.
But I thought, “You know, that’s – maybe some good sort of karma or good omen to, like,
you know, the morning after opening night you’re, you know, talking about hopefully
your next project.” So I met these guys, and we just hit it off right away. Immediately. We really did, you know? And it was great.
And I felt like we were all on the same page. And we sort of took it from there. And Kevin
called me the next week and said, “We’d like you to do this.” There was really no contest. I mean, we had
great other candidates, but the energy and the mischievous joy that was created with
these five individuals, where the ideas just started popping, it was – and like, okay,
what – everybody, like the storytelling became first and foremost. We knew that the
talent was there. Let’s really talk about the storytelling. Okay, well – Oh, I’m sorry, you were saying? I was just going to say, you know, when I
was about to [say], I was a little nervous about it, you know? Because it doesn’t read
as well as it plays at all. You know, and me not knowing any of these guys and knowing
that the lead character is already cast by someone I’ve never seen perform and I know
nothing about, you know, was a little daunting. And then, to see it, and it does read a little
bit more like a parody in a way, when you first read it, because it’s broad comedy
in that way. And it made me a little nervous, too, right after SPAMALOT, I was like, oh!
I don’t know if I want to get into the same kind of thing right after this. But what was
different is the heart, and that I knew that that was sort of what it was. But it was a little scary until we all started
seeing each other. But once we met, I was like, “Okay, I have nothing to worry about.”
And I really felt like that, even though I’d never seen Bob on stage, which was a scary
thing, because we were working on this show for months before I’d ever seen him, you
know, do anything, you know? (LAUGHTER) It wasn’t until – And you’re sitting there with an author
who is also your leading actor. It’s really – Yeah, it was a little – I mean, I felt completely
– it’s weird, because I totally trusted it, but then all of a sudden, you have these
doubts, because you’re like, “Oh, my gosh!” And also, you know, poor Bob, in – poor
Bob! No, I’m just kidding. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But in rehearsals and stuff, he
has to – it was hard for him to completely commit to the actor part, because he had to
wear the writer hat so much. So it was hard for me to always see that. But you know, getting
back to that meeting, it was just great, and we all just got along so well. And like Kevin
said, the mischievous thing, we all sort of felt, like we were laughing at some of the
same things, and telling stories and stuff – Because I mean, I think it’s safe to say
that we were really anxious, too, especially the idea – in a way, the idea of a choreographer-director
is a bit of a night – we knew we needed dancing, but we thought, “Oh, no!” And the first job. It was my first job directing
a Broadway show, too. Yeah. You know, this is my debut. So I think that
that must have made you guys go, oop! A little bit! (LAUGHTER) It’s also what attracted us. But what I was going to say is, we were almost
most anxious, probably, about the sense of humor, and being sort of crushed by a sort
of dance vision, you know? Do you know what I mean? Because it’s all about performance
and character and humor. And you know, when we knew that we had that, then we knew we
were going to be okay. (PH) But we were also excited, you know, when we
thought about it, because the idea of director-choreographer, because this show is not just about dancing,
it’s about movement. And the set itself is almost like another character in this show.
It’s constantly transforming. Right. And it was absolutely crucial that we had
somebody at the helm that knew how to move the action around, move the characters in
and out of these two worlds that we’re presenting. But we’re already moving into the actual
production. I’m very curious, once you met, once everybody said, “Okay, we like each
other, we get the same jokes,” at that point, you have producers. You certainly have an
idea of where they think the show needs to get. You have a director who has an idea.
What were the things that you focused on? I mean, beyond specific jokes or specific
moments, what was your process in that period, and what were you trying to achieve? Well, I mean, I think the first thing was
we had to figure – because also, we were heading into it pretty quickly. I mean, you
know, we had five months before we started the Ahmanson, but five months is nothing when
you have to deal with a set. And the thing is, we hadn’t quite conceptualized it. You
know, the last production that they had done in Toronto basically had no set. It was six
doors and a chair. So we weren’t in any world. No. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? And I – you know, kind of like this set,
I think. Yeah! It was kind of like this set. I think this was the set of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
in Canada! (LAUGHTER) But not as evocative. (LAUGHTER) (TO HOWARD) Can we borrow it, for the tour?
We can talk. So it was really talking about that before
we decided, like, how we were going to proceed with stuff, you know? Concept, yeah. And so we all sat, and we sat with a set designer,
once Dave Gallo got on board. And we came up with, you know, with the idea of making
it in an apartment. You know, I, from the very beginning, had this picture of a refrigerator
center stage. I don’t know why. And I was like, “I want people to come out of the
fridge!” You know what I mean? You were hungry, probably. You were hungry! I mean, I just had these thoughts. I guess
I was hungry! (LAUGHTER) You always had that image, of the refrigerator
center stage. I always do have it, every time. It’s ridiculous! See who’s in it! But you know, so that’s where it sort of
started. And we were all, I think, scared of that, because we didn’t know how literal
we wanted the world to be. So here we were, like, embarking on this whole concept, and
really not sure how it was going to play. And I was always scared that we were going
to get on stage in L.A. and I was going to go, “Oh, my God, this is a huge mistake.
We should get the six doors back!” You know? But we could never act that way, as we were
doing it. And I have to say that Kevin and Roy were amazing during this whole thing,
because during that process, they really just said – “Go for it.” “Here you go. Go for it!” And they really,
like, completely nurtured us, to sit there in a room together and do all this. And then
when we talked about it, they were very excited about it, they gave us ideas. But they never
– they were just really supportive the whole time. And I’m so appreciative of that. Yeah, I should explain that, you know, as
we moved from stage to stage with this show, the reason there were six doors at the Wintergarden
(LAUGHS) was that we had to make it a choice as to whether we allow the show – we allow
the audience to sort of – for it to be an evocation of the musical. In other words,
do we have a neutral place, where both worlds co-exist, like a kind of, you know, metaphor
for the theatre? Theatrical metaphor. A theatrical metaphor of a blank space where
anything can happen. And basically, that decision was made for us by our very small budget at
the Wintergarden, (LAUGHTER) to be perfectly frank. Yes. (LAUGHS) But we knew that there was something unsatisfying
about that. And so, we wrestled with this idea of fully realizing the “real world.”
And then, you know, in our discussions— We just ran – We realized it’s the way to go, and we should
run with it. See, we had always thought of – Yeah. And sort of toyed with, but were never able
to realize – there are a lot of things – And couldn’t afford, basically. There were a lot of things that we couldn’t
afford or couldn’t realize, like the whole sort of ending sort of idea of the show– Yes. We won’t say! Which we won’t say! Yeah, but that whole idea came at a set meeting,
you know the whole idea of interruptions from the real world, a little bit. Yeah, yeah. Actually, from Dave Gallo was how that started.
He was like, “What about if that?” And we were like, “Hmm …” A lot of ideas came out of that. And then it ended up being a great idea, you
know. I want to come back to more of the creative
elements when the actors join us in just a few minutes. I want to ask Roy and Kevin,
before they leave us, the challenge of selling a show with a title (KEVIN LAUGHS) that is
very unfamiliar, authors who’ve not worked on Broadway before, a leading man who is not
a household name, what are the – I am in my house. (LAUGHTER) I just want to
– in my own defense! But what are the challenges of THE DROWSY
CHAPERONE? And indeed, I’ve read a few things, that there was even some debate about “Should
this show be called THE DROWSY CHAPERONE?” Were these marketing elements or – Hard to imagine that that was ever questioned.
(LAUGHTER) It was! But we’re back now! I think the most important element that kept
us on course is, I finally got on the right medication. (DON LAUGHS; CONCERNED MURMURS
FROM THE AUDIENCE) I’m teasing! No, the issue was, you know, 1928’s a very interesting
time, too, which I love about the show, in terms of marketing. It’s really sort of
the real transition where vaudeville was really on a spin, and you were taking vaudeville
acts and putting them right in shows, as part of the scene, which this show – which I
love about the time of 1928. So we were looking back at those titles, and I, you know, saying,
“Well, look, there’s always a female and then, like, you know, and then a word that’s
a little suggestive.” So we were thinking maybe it should be called THE OOPS GIRL, as
an idea for a musical. And I did some canvassing of people, and Roy
and I – I can’t – I mean, weeks about the title! And finally, what we just realized
is, “Look, we’ve gone this far with it. Why don’t we just trust it? The fact that
it’s not easily sellable and that people are going to have to discover it is what is
organically special about it.” That people are attaching, and therefore we went into
– we’re not pre-sold. We are, you know, it’s amazing what’s happened to our sales.
It’s just blossomed because people now know what the show is.
And yet, people are now – whether they call it THE SLEEPY CHAPERONE, THE DRUNKEN CHAPERONE
or THE DROWSY CHAPERONE or even THE DRIPPY XYLOPHONE, they know it’s that show that
is making people laugh and sing as they leave the theatre. And when you’re a commercial
producer in the theatre, what a lot of commercial producers forget is, I don’t care how much
you spend on advertising. If the experience isn’t special in the theatre, it isn’t
going to work. So you could name the show HERE or IT or, you know, NOTHING, put a glyph
for the show, and if it’s good enough, people will come. We had to trust that. But it was
– everyone was – “everyone”! Who was “everyone”? From Day One, having seen the show, I just
always have to go back to my first experience with the show. And I always thought, as much
of our advertising states, it really is a word of mouth show. We don’t really have
anything else to sell just yet. And when people see it, and they find out our secret, that’s
what hopefully will win them over. And they carry the water. They carry – they
are our advertisers, every person who sees the show. That’s true. And Bob’s relatives. That’s the special
combo. But it was scary. You know, in defense of the title, in like,
I mean, as writers, we were trying to come up with a title that was mundane and forgettable!
(LAUGHTER) Which is always good marketing! Because – perfect. I know! Again, we weren’t thinking of it
in terms of a Broadway market. Commercial, yeah. ‘Cause we thought, “What would be more
– what would be funnier than a man saying, ‘I going to play for you a record of this
show called THE DROWSY CHAPERONE,’ which is such a – it just sounds like a bad show!”
(LAUGHTER) Well, not bad. But weird and archaic, I would think. Like,
weird and archaic and sleepy, and just what is it? You’d be like, “What?” Yeah, yeah. But that’s part of the irony of it, the
presentation. The idea is, the show was never a giant hit,
even in its time. It was a strangely passed-over musical. It ran for what, five hundred performances?
What is – no, we actually – actually, Gable (PH) and – It did, yes, that’s true. Pretty good, actually. Gable and Stein, as people who buy the souvenir
program – and I encourage you to – will discover, they wrote eleven other musicals. (LAUGHS) Yes. And they are actually depicted in the souvenir
program. In fact, Man in Chair actually has a whole book of dreams, within the souvenir
program, that talks about his love affair with Gable and Stein. Gable and Stein are the alleged authors of
– THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. The songwriting team from the – We should say that somebody came into auditions
– I was going to tell – I was going to tell
that story. Tell that story! There is no Gable and Stein. But there was
this woman who came in, when we were auditioning in L.A., and she was like, “Oh, my God,
I know Mr. Gable! Mr. Gable – I know his nephew! Is he here? Is Mr. Gable here? Is
he here?” And I was like, “Oh, guess I’m not casting her!” (LAUGHTER)
M We were having a lot of fun with it. But she was explaining how they all knew each
other. I was like, “Really? (LAUGHTER) Great!” His son. His grandson or — ? His nephew, his nephew. I do think, you know, we will be successful
when people start leaving and going to Tower, saying, “I’d like to see the discography
of Gable and Stein. What else do you got?” Yeah, yeah. “Because we just saw their show THE DROWSY
CHAPERONE, and we thought it was terrific!” Well, on that note, I think we’re going
to take a break. We’re going to thank Kevin and Roy for telling us their part of the story.
We’ll be back in just a moment with some of the actors from the production of THE DROWSY
CHAPERONE. And now we’ll take a moment and hear a few words about the work of the American
Theatre Wing. [BREAK; IRRELEVANT MATERIAL NOT TRANSCRIBED] To explore more of the world of THE DROWSY
CHAPERONE, we’re now joined by two members of the company of the show. First, Edward
Hibbert, who plays Underling, the butler, and Beth Leavel, who plays The Drowsy Chaperone. Thank you. (APPLAUSE) In the first half of our discussion, the word
“parody” kept getting used as a bad word. It kept coming up. So I’m very curious to
ask the actors, in terms of finding a playing style for this material, what were you encouraged
to go for? Was it truth? Was it comedy? Was it parody? Where have you had to pitch yourselves?
And I should say, because you’re not just playing the characters in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE,
you have the extra layer of playing the actors who play the actors performing in THE DROWSY
CHAPERONE. Absolutely. So there’s a whole world. So Beth, I want
to ask you first, where was the jumping-off point for this show? Well, yes. (LAUGHTER) Thank you, that clears it up! You’re welcome. That’s a line, actually,
I have in the show. Not for long! (LAUGHTER) Anyway, moving [right along!] This isn’t
the time to talk about this! It’s a process. It’s a work in process.
My jumping-off part was finding who the character was. And that – I was informed by that,
by really figuring out who Beatrice Stockwell was. And she is the woman who plays The Drowsy
Chaperone. And finding out and discovering who she was, where she lived in the twenties,
what type of person she was, and it was truth in the comedy, in that that’s who she was.
So the shoes were very easy to put on, once you realized who this woman was. And just
working with everyone, and it became – and I never thought “parody,” I just always
thought, “This is the woman. This is her world. This is my truth. Go!” But very little of that appears on stage,
so I’m curious, in terms – explicitly. So who is Beatrice Stockwell, who’s playing
this character? Beatrice Stockwell, as I discovered, with
the creative team and during rehearsals, was a diva actress in the twenties, who was very
demanding and very popular, very very famous, very well-known, came from a huge theatrical
family. And later became Dame Beatrice Stockwell. Later became Dame Beatrice Stockwell, as we
know, where she sang rousing anthems, and she insisted on certain things being done.
Every time she was cast in a show, she came with a list that had to be done, or she would
not take the role. And that list was that she did this show by having a wonderful song
in the show that probably she demanded happen. I don’t know if The Drowsy Chaperone should
sing the song, but Beatrice demanded that it happen. She demanded the final entrance.
She demanded certain things in costumes. And it became – she informed Drowsy completely,
about where I needed to go with her, with – like I say, with the creative team’s
help and with rehearsals. And there was one great thing we did in rehearsal
in California, where it was called the hot – we did lots of exercises. But this one
was called The Hot Seat. Did you talk about that, when I was gone? Well, we didn’t – look – basically,
when we did rehearsals, for the first two weeks, we did exercises every single morning
with everybody, to get everyone on the same page, and all to do with vaudeville, and who
their vaudeville performers were, playing these roles, so that the show, the characters
– even though Bob’s character says, “This show was two-dimensional,” the show doesn’t
feel two-dimensional to the audiences watching it now, because all of these people have such
a life. And Hot Seat was something that the writers had done at Second City as an improv
exercise. And we did different exercises. We made them make up a dance for their character.
We did all kinds of stuff every morning, and it really, really helped the show. It was amazing. It really helped everyone get physical and
get to know who they were, and to come from a truthful place. And stylistically be on the same page, too. Exactly, we did style stuff, too. But anyway,
Hot Seat is each of these people had to sit in a chair and everyone asked them questions
about their character. Like, we’d ask Noel Fitzpatrick all about, you know, “What was
it like to do this?” And everyone literally was put in the hot seat and had to answer
all these things about the character. And it was great! And we learned a great deal. It was all so informative. And we made them
read scenes from, like, modern day soap operas as characters from 1928 would read the stuff. As Beatrice would read it, or something. We
had bios. We did all kinds of stuff to just get it that
specific. And like you said, the audience won’t necessarily know that or see that,
but that’s what was done, so this audience knows that these people have an active life. Absolutely. And did those exercises inform your writing?
Were there things that came out of it that then became part of the show? Yes. Oh, yes. Yeah, in complicated ways. (LAUGHTER) Well, the truth isn’t horrible (PH) – Well, like, the idea for – one – and again,
one of the things we liked, like Kevin was saying, about the period is shows weren’t
integrated musicals, as we understand them. Well, they were beginning to be, and there
were some, but still this show, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, had elements of vaudeville, like
Casey was saying, elements of sort of melodrama and spectacle. And what we imagine, at least, when we try
and imagine what it was like to see, I don’t know, Ray Bolger in HEADS UP or something
like that, is that it was based around him, and the energy that the audience got was of
this performer and feeling the life of this performer, who was able – the charisma came
across the stage, no matter what he was playing. And that’s what this sort of exercise allowed
us to do, to build it out of what the characters – we really build – I’ve always built
the show out of the actor, been inspired by the actors and tried to service them. We built the whole thing to their strengths. Which is such a privilege. Yeah, that’s what I going to say. It’s
not so much about the details that came out in those exercises. It’s about the voice
that we started to hear from each character. And in the case of Kitty and Feldzeig’s
characters – Oh, completely. Mmm-hmm. A relationship. It’s – yeah. Jennifer Smith and Lenny
Wolpe, it’s about a relationship between two characters. And we sort of reconceived
those two characters within the show to support what we were seeing between those two actors.
And Beth really is the prime example. Beth was instrumental to this. Yeah. Because when I first read the script – and
actually, we had a very hard time casting the role because it wasn’t well – it wasn’t
well-written! Hey! I can’t say that? (DON STARTS PRETENDING
TO CHOKE; LAUGHTER) No offense! It was complete! I’m trying
to say it wasn’t finished! No, it wasn’t finished, we knew that. No, but it wasn’t – it wasn’t finished.
No, and let me – I don’t mean that in a bad way at all, and these guys know that. No, in a good way! No, no! (LAUGHTER) I mean, it was written terribly! And Beth’s
right. No, but the thing is, it was very two-dimensional. And it was written – that character was
written just as, “Say a line. Say a line. Say a line,” without much behind it. But
now that we’ve fleshed it out, and you know, Greg and Lisa wrote a new song for her, a
different song, so it didn’t feel as two-dimensional, we were able to, you know, do all of it around
Beth and make this role what Beth has brought to it. Now, it is Beth, and it’s so great
to watch, because it wasn’t that. Right. And we didn’t – when we first started,
nobody knew why it was called THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, because The Drowsy Chaperone is not the lead
part at all. She’s a very peripheral part to start with, you know? But now people sort
of know why it’s called that, because of Bob’s relationship to her, and how they
– you know, she’s his favorite character. His favorite. Now they start to – and the character is
a star now, you know? She gets lots of applause and everything,
yeah. Exactly. That was one of the challenges, when the producers
were discussing the title, we thought, “Well, we’ll show them why it’s called THE DROWSY
CHAPERONE!” Yes, exactly! (LAUGHTER) “We’ll make her a star!” Yeah. Absolutely. And though it’s not called UNDERLING, Edward,
in his — (LAUGHTER) And you can talk to them about that later! (LAUGHTER) UNDERLING’S REVENGE! Yes! But in those exercises, what – Another one which was really helpful was Casey
brought in an array of wonderful twenties, thirties musicals, and we sat there and watched
them. And it occurred to me that, first of all, there’s this wonderful thing, that
these numbers would erupt and everybody would go into some loose-limbed character dancing,
which I think has become very much part of what we’re all doing in the show. And also,
one looked at those people who played these roles, and at that time, they were cast for
their personalities. There were actors who went from playing one droll man – I mean,
Eric Bloor (PH) and Edward Everett Horton’s love child is Noel Fitzpatrick! (LAUGHTER) That’s an image, yeah. And in my Hot Seat, I decided all his career
was just from one Jeeves-like manservant to another. And that’s what – you want a
good butler, you’d call on Noel Fitzpatrick. That’s right. And you get what you get. But in terms of the playing style, I’m curious
– you appeared in ME AND MY GIRL. At the same theatre, yeah. Which, of course, is the kind of show that
this is modeled upon. Yes. So, in terms of creating this layered character,
how – did you draw on what you’d done in ME AND MY GIRL and that style? No. Well, not really, because I think that’s
a wonderful show, but that really wasn’t a pastiche, a homage. It just was a rollicking,
good musical comedy. Well, it was that show from the period that
then this – I think more THE BOYFRIEND, which I have a
connection to, because my dad was in the original production. And when I first read this, I
thought, “This, in every sense of the word, is as perfect a pastiche, a parody” – which
I don’t think is a negative term. I think it is a loving term for what we’re doing.
Parody is great. It’s only bad when it’s bad parody. (LAUGHTER) I’ve seen a few of
those, and done a few of those, too! But I digress. (LAUGHTER) But no, I think THE BOYFRIEND
and THE DROWSY CHAPERONE are very kindred spirits in terms of what they are lovingly
sending up. But the difference, I think, is the Man in
the Chair. There’s an outside perspective. Oh, of course! That’s a whole other layer.
That’s what gives it its complete originality. But within the book show, I think that’s
the case. Yeah, yeah. And as we talk about, then, modeling on the
actors who are in it, and you said that along the way, there was even some of that for the
song writers when, certainly, Beth and Edward came into it. We already heard there was a
new song. How did you work with these actors? What sprang up in your minds, once you really
had the cast, not just these two, but people like Danny Burstein and Sutton Foster and
Lenny Wolpe and – And Georgia Engel. Georgia, of course. Yeah. So what came out of those actors, and these
actors? Well, certainly with Beth – I think – when
you came on board – I am so interesting! (LAUGHS) Go ahead. No, your big song was still kind of – it
was – it was – It was in the works. It wasn’t there. It was there, but it wasn’t
– I don’t think we had fully nailed it. Right. It was another song. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And so, you just sort of filled
out that song, like, now it’s, you know, it’s – Well, it was another song, initially, in the
earlier productions. Yeah. Really, three, I think, in total. It was more of a patter song. It was kind
of – Very Noel Coward, in process (PH). Noel Coward-y type song. Oh, yes! Which Edward will be doing soon! (EDWARD LAUGHS) Which didn’t really work for the kind of
diva character she was doing. Yeah. And when we saw what she was performing, and
the way we wanted to transform the character into this kind of force, this kind of Auntie
Mame-like force – And the energy of the song we needed at that
time in the show, which Casey was into. That point in the show. It was like, this is the introduction of this
character. This character is introduced briefly in the opening number, which also is a new
number. But this is the number where she had to win over the entire audience, and they
all had to see why this Man in the Chair loves this person so much, loves this performer.
And as the number grew, and we saw what Beth could do, you know, kept notching that up
a few notes, up a third! Yeah. We did, we did! Higher! Longer! (LAUGHTER) Yeah, yeah. Make you hold that longer. It’s true. And that’s very much how we work, anyways,
once we come with a song to someone. We like to work with them and the musical director,
whoever that may be, and fiddle with it, as we go on. And for the actors, I also want to ask, because
it’s not the most common situation – we often hear, you know, actors, you know, you’re
not supposed to go up to another actor and talk about their performance or (UNINTEL WORD).
Everybody has to find their own way. You leave that to the director. But of course, you are
performing in this show with one of your authors. Yes. (HE AND BETH LAUGH) Has that been an interesting situation for
you, to suddenly have somebody else who’s up there on stage maybe pulling you aside
and saying, “I was sort of thinking about this.” Edward? It’s been a very happy collaborative energy
from Day One. And I don’t think he’s ever had any kind of – there’s not been any
kind of tight-lipped, pursed-lipped – (LAUGHS) And we’ve been very open and creative. And
I think if something isn’t working, I mean, one of the things I’m loving about this,
because it’s the first time I’ve actually been in a totally original book musical, is
that the journey, the refinement, the constant changes. You know, figuring out the mathematics,
if you will, of why one line isn’t quite landing, and discussing it. It’s fascinating,
and it keeps one right up there on one’s toes. (HE AND BETH LAUGH) So no, I think it’s
been a very positive thing. And – It’s also good, because you know, it’s
– what’s – it was scary to me at first, thinking, “Oh my gosh, the writer’s in
the show, so he’s not going to be able to see.” But he’s sitting in a chair, watching
the whole show! (LAUGHS) Yeah! So he gets to see what is and isn’t working,
as far as that part. You know, he leaves it to us for his own stuff, and he can feel his
stuff as well. And I completely – I know you are a writer
in the show, but that’s not – I know you as Man in Chair. And during the show, we as
performers, we as the actors on stage, never see the Man in Chair. He’s invisible. We
are just in his world, so I have– Yes. It’s a very strange process for me!
(LAUGHS) Because, I mean, rehearsal-wise, I’m never performing with anyone. And so
much of my material is geared to how the audience reacts to something that I say. Rehearsal
is absolutely torture for me, because my scene partner is not there, basically. And then,
actual development is difficult as well, because I usually have the changes for something a
couple of days before the cast sees them. I know what’s going. (LAUGHTER FROM THE
PANEL) Yes? And you know what’s going, too, some nights.
Go to the point where we’re, “Oh, well, try a new line there!” And I mean, I have
to control myself, because it’s like, it comes out and you hear like, it’s just sitting
there, and you go, “That’s so not going to be the right line!” (LAUGHTER) We change quickly, it’s true. When you put in the new pages! (LAUGHS) You’re right, though, Edward, it is a fascinating
sort (PH) of math. I mean, it’s certainly not a science! (LAUGHS) But it is great to
have the opportunity, a cast that’s willing to take changes, you know, a few hours before
show time and try something out. But the tough part for me is knowing a couple of days beforehand,
saying lines that I know are going to be cut, and hearing actors say lines that I know are
no longer there, and moments that I know don’t work, and I know why they don’t work. And
having to turn that mechanism off and commit to character is not easy to do. Because you don’t want to be on the stage
wincing! (LAUGHTER) That would be bad. Or taking notes or sighing or anything like
that. Well, obviously Bob is disciplined, when you
say that. He doesn’t talk to actors on the stage, or in rehearsals. He will come up and
Casey and – Oh, yes, absolutely. We’ll all talk. Although we talked early on about the fact
that, because this is very much about a Broadway musical, it is American in that sense, I did
want to ask the authors, did you find, as the show was transitioned from Canada to the
U.S., was there a Canadian sensibility and things that landed there that don’t – over
multiple productions, that suddenly you found weren’t playing here? There was one joke. (LISA LAUGHS) One joke. What’s that? At the beginning of the show, there’s this
sort of prayer to the audience, asking for the evening to be an enjoyable evening, asking
God. (BETH GIGGLES) It’s hilarious! (LAUGHTER) And anyway, one of the things we used to say
is – well, the joke’s of course not going to work here! – That’s okay. But we used to say, “If it must be a Canadian
play, please don’t let it be a Canadian play!” (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Because
in Canada, we’re used to that kind of – Wart. (PH) Rural melodrama that’s really – Well, turgid, realistic – Some! Some. And so we, of course, cut that! But we didn’t
really – On the more positive side, about Canada – Yes, Don? I would say that we’ve always thought – That wasn’t negative! No, no, no, I know. We’ve always thought
that there was, that there is a Canadian angle, which is sort of the Man in the Chair, that
he has this perspective outside of Broadway. In a way, he’s watching as we watched from
across the border. He’s an outsider. He is watching Broadway and imagining what
it’s like, and titillated by it, and also critical. (LAUGHS) Separated from it. And you know, I think that’s why, actually
– there’s a whole theory about why so many comedians come out of Canada, and it’s
think it’s we have that sort of – Observational, yeah. Forced observational distance. That’s true. Since we’re on Canada for a moment, I want
to diverge wildly from the topic of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE and the producers have left the
panel, so they won’t be going, “Oh, we’re losing time promoting the show!” Because
all of the creators of this show – you’ve collaborated many times, in many permutations
– but I do want to mention that even as this was going on, you were becoming involved
in a television show which, for me personally, was the most exciting new hour of television
since “The Sopranos” appeared, and that is a show called “Slings & Arrows,” which
has been aired here — (APPLAUSE) That’s nice! Which has been aired here in the U.S. on the
Sundance channel. And it is, indeed, a show about a theatre company. So even as you’re
writing a show that takes – that springs off of the creation of theatre, you were also
involved in another show about the creation of theatre. Oh, the levels of irony! (LAUGHTER) It’s
true. All I’ll say is that, to titillate people
for the next season, is that if you’re thinking how did it influence the show, was there any
crossover? I was just curious. I will say that my character plays a horrible
director, a sort of pretentious director – not based on Casey! (MUCH LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) He puts his arm around me when he says that!
“I’m playing the character of a horrible director”! I just realized – I just realized some people
might be thinking, “Oh, it was inspired by Casey!” and there’s going to be our
very last project! Great! But anyway, he directs a musical in the third
season that Lisa and Greg wrote the music for, so there’s a sort of even more transference. But I am curious, because there is the idea
of constantly referencing theatre and making drama out of theatre and the story of theatre,
and clearly that has some appeal for you all. Yes. What drove “Slings & Arrows,” even in
the time that you were doing this? Well, yeah, I should say I’m one of the
creators of the show and one of the writers, and Don is in the show, and Lisa and Greg
write the original music in the show. I think, for me and the other two writers, Mark McKinney
and Susan Coyne, we’ve all sort of had a love-hate relationship with the theatre, being
performers and audience members as well. Performers, particularly, because it’s a really difficult
job, especially when you’re doing classical theatre, where you have to experience, you
know, your eyes being gouged out every night. (LAUGHS) When you may have had bad pad Thai
just before the show. (LAUGHTER) Which actually happened to me last night, by the way. But it is – it’s – it’s the – we
really find fascinating the life of the actor onstage, as compared to the backstage life,
as well as the life, you know, the production realities and theatre that the audience may
or may not appreciate. And that whole world is what we find interesting. And that’s
really what “Slings & Arrows” is about, is about the personalities of the people backstage,
not so much what actually happens on the stage, but what’s going on in their own lives. Well, to come back to DROWSY CHAPERONE, this
issue about commenting on theatre, television commenting on theatre, theatre commenting
on itself. We spoke earlier, Casey, and you touched on the issue of was there a similarity
between what SPAMALOT was doing and what this show was doing. This is a show which constantly
comments on itself, in a way. Mmm-hmm. And I just wanted to ask you, as you were
exploring it, how do you find an emotional through line, a dramatic through line, even
as you’re constantly reminding people that they are indeed watching a show? Well, I think what’s fun about DROWSY CHAPERONE,
which we’ve talked about with the actors recently, too, is that – and that’s why,
even though, you know, the parody word or whatever – you know, it’s not like a – that’s
a tricky word. But what happens to me is, sometimes people use “parody” and “spoof”
– it’s not a spoof, you know what I mean? I don’t feel like that at all. The thing
is, I always wanted it to feel like a valentine to that era and to those shows. So the thing
that’s so important with DROWSY is that the actors are completely sincere in everything
they do. And I’ve tried to take out as much commenting
as possible from them, because Bob’s the only one that should be commenting on it,
you know what I mean? So the actors should be absolutely genuine and in that world. And
you know, the things that Noel Fitzpatrick and Beatrice Stockwell are going for and doing
are very real to them, too. You know, the audience may not know all that stuff, you
know? But hopefully, they see the heart through it, and the other things, and the joy of performing.
And that, to me, is what was really important about this. SPAMALOT doesn’t – SPAMALOT has that,
but they do verge on the spoof (LAUGHS), you know what I mean? With like, “We know – oh,
good, we’re skewering Andrew Lloyd Webber here, or we’re skewering, you know, like
an Olympics number in this one, or we’re doing Vegas here.” There were all those
different things that we were parodying there, in that. And I wanted this to feel more straight-ahead.
And that was the thing that really, when I first came on, I really wanted to be sure
that it had that. And because of these guys, they feel the same way as I do about, you
know, if it’s not truthful, there’s nothing. And I feel like that in comedy, too. And I
think that was the SPAMALOT thing, too, that even though, you know, they’re doing all
this broad stuff on stage, everyone is just out there, just saying the lines. Mike Nichols
keeps saying, you know, “Just say the lines. Just say the lines!” And you know, if you’re
truthful to what’s happening, I always think comedy works.
And that, to me, is the most important thing in directing a comedy or choreographing a
comedy. You know, the thing is, we don’t ever stop – well, like Bob said, you know,
that they were attracted to the idea of a show that just kept moving. And that doesn’t
mean, like, we stop and we do a five minute dance number. It’s – there’s no time
for it, and there’s no need for it, in this show, you know? This has to be character-driven,
and it’s all very physical, but we don’t – we very rarely in this show stop and do
a dance number, because that’s not what the show needs. Like, Sutton’s big number,
“Show-Off,” has her just going crazy, doing stuff, but it’s not really a dance
number. Sure, it’s a dance number in many ways, but it’s a comedic tour-de-force for
her. And that’s, you know, that’s what I want
to do, is make sure the numbers are funny, and the numbers in this show as well as the
numbers in SPAMALOT feel like they’re part of the show. You know, that they feel like,
we’re not, like, taking this funny funny show, and then all of a sudden the choreographer
wants to do a dance number, to show how well he dances, you know? That’s not what I had
in mind with this at all. Well, Greg and Lisa, were you writing songs
that were meant to be funny songs, “Ha ha, let’s laugh,” or were you really trying
to focus on songs that would have made sense in something called THE DROWSY CHAPERONE? Both, both. Because in a show like THE DROWSY
CHAPERONE, there’d be the comic song and then there’d be the sweet song, and just
– so we were just trying to, you know, working with Casey as well when we were working on
the score, it’s “Let’s make this score like the kind of score you’d hear in the
1920’s.” So Noel Fitzpatrick sings a funny song and the bride has – there’s a sweet
moment with the bride and the groom. So we were just trying to create, as authentically
as possible, what a show like that would sound like. Although sometimes the straight songs are
also funny. Often, they are funny, too, do you know what I mean? Like Beth’s song is
presumably a straight song. Yeah. But it’s certainly funny, too. (BOB LAUGHS) Well, let’s take a moment and look at another
moment from THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, and we’ll come back and pursue this a little bit more.
[BREAK; IRRELEVANT MATERIAL NOT TRANSCRIBED] Since Casey brought up the “Show-Off”
number, I want to ask, in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, the original production in the 1920’s, was
that a comic number? In those days, was that always meant to be? Yes. Yes, definitely. Sure. I mean, these shows had their own wit and
self-referentiality. And they – you know, it’s not – that’s why it’s not exactly
a parody, because the shows had their own complexity. And when Casey says “straight,”
he doesn’t mean straight dramatically, he means committed to the comedy of the period.
Obviously, Edward’s character is a comic character and isn’t serious, but he’s
– what was important was the way he – Edward was able to find a comic persona and a comic
routine – he pulls off an amazing comic routine. And usually, comedy is dated very
quickly, but it’s hilarious, when Edward – what Edward’s doing. (LAUGHTER FROM
THE PANEL) It is hilarious. We’ve talked about the fact that the characters,
the layer of the characters, the actor playing the character in the show, we know their back
story. Do you, Edward and Beth, do you in fact know the whole arc of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE,
even the parts of the play that we’re not seeing represented? Because we know cast albums,
which is what we’re hearing, are only the highlights. Is that story fleshed out? Edward,
do you know the whole arc of what happens? You mean, what parts of the show we don’t
get to see? Exactly. Well, I’d like to say Underling’s Dream
Ballet. (LAUGHTER) But I think, to answer that question, I don’t know. (LAUGHS) But
I do know that the highlights of the show, which we do get, it’s really – I listen
to it every night, and I think, “It is so perfect, because musically and scene-wise,
it’s got everything that a book musical from the twenties would have.” It’s got
your show-stopper. It’s got your beautiful romantic ballad. It’s got quirky, eccentric
numbers, the build to a great climax. So it has, in fact, got all the ingredients you’d
have found in a show of that period. I mean, scene-wise, too. I mean, it really is the
whole. It’s the complete show. To me, it is the whole show. I’m thinking,
“Oh, God, there’s more?” It is! I don’t think we’re missing anything.
I mean, it tells the whole journey, so I just think it’s a nice – Well, the Man says that at the top of the
show. It’s the complete show. It’s the complete show. It is a recording
of the complete show. Oh, because it is a two record set? It’s a two record set! It’s actually a transcription sort of show. I mean, clearly it’s pushing it a bit, historically.
But there were recordings at the time where they would record scenes as well. There were
really no extant full shows like that. There aren’t now, either. But you know, certainly
we’re suggesting that the whole show is there. And Beth, you? Well, I agree with what Edward said. To me,
it is the whole show, you know, knowing that’s the journey, beginning, middle and end. And
I’m very aware of the entire story of that. But it’s a very interesting question, I
was going, “That’s it, though. That’s our whole story out there!” And we were talking earlier about what you
hear from the audience, lines that work, lines that don’t work. Oh, yes. And I’m wondering how the audiences have
affected you. What are the things that now that you are on Broadway, what have been,
from all of these incarnations, what were the big changes? What are – and indeed,
as we’re talking, even in the green room, you were saying there’s still little tweaks.
But what were even the changes from Los Angeles that went into the show? Well, two big changes. Yeah. The big change was, there was a dream ballet
in Act Two, the second half. Not Edward’s? It wasn’t mine, of course! (LAUGHS) It was not Edward’s! It’s was not Edward’s, unfortunately.
(EDWARD LAUGHS) But there was a dream ballet that was sort
of – this is where we did go into parody, with the dream ballet, you know? Which is
why we didn’t feel like it was right. And the audiences loved it as its own piece, you
know. It was – and Bobby sort of said, you know, “It’s ahead,” it was ahead of
its time. So it sort of had pieces of every dream ballet you’ve ever seen, like that
kind of feel. I started with, you know, evil monkeys, and then went into AMERICAN IN PARIS,
and all that kind of stuff. And it just was a big – it was a big dream ballet. And what
we ended up doing is cutting it, basically. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) But – But! But we took elements of it and then wrapped
it up. One of the things we’d heard in L.A. is that people wanted Sutton to have a little
bit more of a featured moment in Act Two. It is a one act show, but we – but it’s
divided in half. It was a one act show – well, we call it
Act One and Act Two, because the musical had an Act One and an Act Two. But so what we
ended up doing was taking elements of that dream sequence and using that to expand the
number for her. And Greg and Lisa wrote some other, you know, great stuff that follows
it. And then we just kept spinning it around and making that. And actually, thank God,
because it ended up doing great things for Bob and his character, with him really getting
involved in the show, in the second half of it, which was great. So it was that. Edward and Georgia Engel have – had a different
number in L.A. than they do now. We replaced that, and we’re much happier with what it
is now, because the one now is much more character-driven. It’s like you know who these people are,
and now we’re doing a number that is comedic and suits the two of them better. It’s also related to story. The other one
wasn’t as much. Yeah. Exactly. And when that change came in, Edward, did
they come to you with the new song before they told you you were losing the old song,
or was it – No. I had a feeling, by the time we all said
au revoir in Los Angeles that I could not remember “I Remember Love,” (LAUGHS) which
was a charming number, which by the way is going to be on the album, which is lovely.
Be nice to hear it again. But no, this is much better. I mean, as Casey says, it takes
our characters, and we fly with it. Yeah, and also, just as – And actually – oh! Ah! (LAUGHTER) Actually, “I Remember Love,” the song
that was cut, when I first heard it, is one of my favorite songs that Lisa and Greg have
written. Oh, it’s a wonderful song. It really is. I absolutely love it. And that
was the one, I was like, “That is perfect! That is so 1920’s. That’s great.” But
as you find, you know, when you’re doing an original musical, if something doesn’t
suit the show, it can be fantastic, and if it isn’t – you know, once you get the
pieces of the puzzle together, sometimes something’s not right. And that’s why the number went,
not because it wasn’t a good song. It was, you know, my favorite song, and it just wasn’t
right for what we were doing, once you put everything else together in front of it. Lisa, you want to say something? Yeah, I was just going to expand on that,
that you know, writing the new song, this is where we were talking about actors inspiring
the writing, this – we – now we have joke lines for Edward. We realized how funny Edward
is. That’s true! It was like, “Oh, now we know – we know
the voice of Edward,” so a lot of the song was inspired by – It was so informative for us, yeah. ‘Cause
me and Lisa actually, when we write songs, we often demo them ourselves, and we create
a little demo. Can I hear that? (LISA LAUGHS) And you know, and Lisa was Georgia and I was
Edward. (LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) And that’s how we sort of, a lot of times we work. So
having known them and loved them, it was – even though the song wasn’t the easiest song
to write, it was certainly (LAUGHS) hugely informative for us. I’ve forgotten about it already! When you say a song is not easy to write,
what do you mean? Is it lyrics? Is it just finding the right tune? What does that mean? It was more of the placement of that song,
and the number, and what it shows for the characters. And what the actual comic – yeah. What the
actual comic concept of the song was, and how that was going to work in – also, fitting
it right in. Yeah, it was – It’s got something before that, so it’s
going to be after that song, and it has to be this length – It’s a very delicate spot. And it has to about this. And it was just
trying to fit it perfectly. Mmm-hmm. Those last – the last pieces of the puzzle
are always the most difficult to create. Yeah. Yeah. But it’s funny, because that song was the
most collaborative thing that a – of the four writers. Which one? The new one or – Yes. (GENERAL AGREEMENT) Really? We all contributed. I mean, obviously it was
major – your major work was done on it. No, but we were all kind of – We all took a stab at it! Yeah, we all – Yeah, we were all kind of pouncing on it! Casey, too. Oh, yeah. Talking about maths, you were talking about
earlier, I think sometimes, as Casey was saying, “I Remember Love,” the song that we’re
not doing any more, was delightful. I heard the demo and I went, “Oh, that is adorable.”
And I think it’s the mathematical thing of just like, no one was doing anything wrong
– I hope, no one! No, no. But I think what it was, was just given the
journey the show as on, it didn’t seem to be quite the right place for it maybe. Yeah, yeah. And so that’s when things change, and it’s
all part of the process. And in that process, I mean, as we’ve said,
there’s a lot of material that’s no longer in the show. It has transformed enormously
over its journey, now going back to 1998, how do you finally make that decision to take
away something that you may love in many ways? Is it ultimately, Casey, that you get to say,
“This has gotta go”? Can there – because there’s really quite a team here! I mean,
it’s four authors and a director. What’s great about this group is that, basically,
when something doesn’t work, all of us just go – like, we’ll meet in Bob’s room,
we’ll go, like, “Well, that was clear.” Even if it’s something – but even if it’s
something we love, like the ballet, there was one day we all just went, “You know
what? We’ve got to cut the ballet.” Yeah. And we all knew that we loved it, and it was
just time to do that. We all – It’s so – it’s sort of amazing, actually. It really is amazing. We were very fortunate. We would just go in there and we’re like,
“Well, it’s sad, isn’t it, that we have to like cut the –” You know, there’s
a couple that were like the Dream Robert – we had like a dream ballet, we had the Dream
Robert and Janet (BOB LAUGHS) were in it, too. And it was only step-out that the ensemble
members got to do in the show. And we tried so – we wanted so badly to keep them in
it, once we transferred the number into being Sutton’s number, and we did, and it was
crushing. Because we just knew, after we saw that, we’re like, “It’s not going to
work.” And then we had to tell them that. But we all – we all pretty much agree. Yeah, we do. Yes! It’s been very rare – Psychic at times! (LISA LAUGHS) Even with little lines. Yeah. Even with words! (LAUGHTER) Punctuation! In the last couple of minutes that we have,
you have made an extraordinary journey from Canada to Broadway. Where are your hearts
now, about this piece, and are there going to be other pieces coming from this team?
(LAUGHTER FROM THE PANEL) Oh, I hope so! Well, we … Well, we haven’t really discussed, you know,
the next – We haven’t figured this out yet! This one is just – it feels like – has
been – well, for me, anyway, my life for the last ten years, so it’s – I don’t
really – it’s hard to know kind of where – I’m going to have to get a big breath
soon! Yes! We all have to do that. And figure out, you know, what the next thing
is, ‘cause … Definitely, for me and Lisa, it was something
I wanted to point out was, actually THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is what brought us together as a
songwriting team. I’d known Bob through Second City, so he always wanted us to get
together, and I’d known Lisa and her work. So in so many ways, I feel that the whole
genesis of the piece and all the evolutions has also been us developing as a team. And
that’s certainly something we’ve done many other – we had many other things while
the development of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE has been going on. So it’s – a big part of
that is, you know. I mean, we’re all friends. Like, we’re
very close friends, and it started as a wedding gift. So there’s no question that we’re
going to be together one way or another. And it’s almost inconceivable that we won’t
be working together. And now that we’ve sort of – our little sort of friendship
has expanded onto Broadway, and we find, sort of to our astonishment, that we sort of have
these instincts and we have – feel, actually, more comfortable than we ever would have imagined,
and this sort of evocation we had of Broadway actually sort of makes some sense, that it
just seems sort of impossible that there won’t be some continuation. But we’ll all talk about that later. We’ll talk after. (LAUGHTER) I think my final question has to be a personal
one for you, Bob, which is, this is a show that began your marriage. And your marriage
has obviously gone through the entire evolution of this show. Where is Janet in all of this,
because she – indeed, you said, she was someone you performed with, she was part of
your group, yet she is watching this process the whole way. Yeah, she played Janet Van De Graaff in two
productions of the show. Yes, she’s well – it’s kind – it’s bittersweet. We’re
separated. She’s in Toronto, I’m living in New York. (LAUGHS) I mean, depending on
how the show goes, she’ll relocate. But it’s been fantastic. It’s been bizarre.
I mean, you know, the – our manager in Toronto said we should consider copyrighting our names.
(DON LAUGHS) That’s – it’s – I can not tell you how odd that is. But – but
I mean, she loves it. She – you know, she – she – we love hearing the Van De Graaff
family name sung every night. (LAUGHS) But to answer your question, it’s very odd.
(LAUGHTER) The marriage has survived, and is blossoming. Well, as far as we’re concerned, we still
see – feel she’s there on that stage, you know? She’s on the refrigerator! She is, actually! A picture is – our wedding
picture is on the refrigerator on the set. (LAUGHTER AND MURMURS FROM THE AUDIENCE) And we say hi to her every show. (LAUGHS) Everyone in the cast has something on the
set. Oh, yes. And producers, and crew members. We just wanted
to make it personal. So everyone’s got, like, memorabilia and stuff on the set and
pictures of family members and kids. Beth has her family up there, and it’s pretty
cool. Well, there are so many elements that go into
a show, from the individual mementos to, obviously, the overall shape. It’s – in this day
and age, that remarkable thing, a truly original new Broadway musical. I want to thank you
all for being here. I’d like to thank our audience, and the people here at CUNY-TV,
our partners at CUNY, as well as the CUNY Department of Continuing Education and Public
Programs. I hope you all join me in thanking the many people who have made THE DROWSY CHAPERONE.

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