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Fanciful musical escapism in intelligent 'Drowsy Chaperone'

OREM — When “The Drowsy Chaperone” lead character announces at the opening of the musical-with-a-comedy that “I hate musicals,” don’t believe him. His disdain is reserved for today’s overproduced, mega-spectacle Broadway shows.

Man in Chair, as he is known, is joyously obsessed with the early musical classics that cured Depression-era gloom. While playing the fictional musical’s recording, the lonely sad sack becomes an effervescent narrator. He imagines the iconic characters singing and tap dancing as they burst into life in his bleak one-room apartment.

“The beauty is that there is a little in Man of Chair in all of us,” says Dave Tinney, director of “Drowsy Chaperone,” playing at Hale Center Theater Orem through Oct. 1. “We all have our escapist (behavior), be it theater, sports, collecting, painting, computer games, cooking, etc.

“He is just using musicals to help him get through the day. The show helps him ‘stumble along,’ ” he adds, quoting a show lyric.

Escapism is a vital in our daily lives, Tinney believes. “The human mind needs to rest and recharge," he said. "Theater allows you to have a vicarious, visceral and emotional experience in the safety of a darkened theater.”

To explain the wild popularity and undeniable charm of “Drowsy Chaperone,” Tinney cites the show’s “innovative, clever, self-deprecating, poignant writing.”

While savvy theatergoers have lamented movies becoming musicals and adding a plot to Billboard artists’ discography, “Drowsy Chaperone” has been called an intelligent musical that builds on the genre’s foundations while also paying tribute to its landmark predecessors.

“What might make the show interesting for people is the nontraditional format," Tinney says. "It makes fun of musical theater while it embraces it. It pokes fun at those who are fanatics about musical theater, while sneaking up on you with a very sweet, universal message about the rescuing power of a seemingly trivial thing in someone’s life. It’s really smart writing.”

Whenever Man in Chair is afflicted with a “nonspecific sadness,” he retreats to the paradise of his hi-fi and vinyl showtune LPs (“Yes, records,” he pointedly tells us).

“I have known several people like the Man in Chair character, but I won’t describe them because they will know I am talking about them,” Tinney jokes.

The smash Broadway hit that earned five Tony awards entertainingly tells the tale of a bride-to-be who plans to leave her flourishing stage career behind, the scheming producer who doesn’t want to lose his star, the oh-so-dashing groom and the title character, the star’s chaperone (“drowsy” was the era euphemism for “tipsy”). There’s also the talentless chorine, the Latin lover and a pair of gangsters masquerading as pastry chefs.

While critics lauded the show’s fanciful structure and Man in Chair’s comic asides, the songs were branded “forgettable” compared to the now-standards by Cole Porter, the Gershwins and Jerome Kern written for similar musicals.

“Ah, critics,” Tinney responds. “The songs in ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ are wonderful. They capture the era, but they are also very melodic, witty and memorable.”

if you go

What: “The Drowsy Chaperone”

Where: Hale Center Theater Orem

When: Through Oct. 1

How much: $13.50-$17.50 ($2 less for children)

Phone: 801-226-8600

Web: www.haletheater.org

Blair enjoys being nearly as hopelessly obsessed with musicals as Man in Chair, but not quite so world-weary.