Founder’s Green in Stapleton will become a Broadway stage June 6–8, with a production of The Drowsy Chaperone, a 1920s sendup that is “loads of fun,” according to Director Bev Newcomb-Madden.
Stapleton’s fourth annual theater production produced by the Aurora Fox Arts Center is free and open to the public. Last year’s performances drew more than 2,000 theater lovers to The Green to enjoy top-notch professional theater.
“This play is pure entertainment,” said Newcomb-Madden, a longtime Denver director who grew up in Park Hill. “The costumes will be bright; the choreography is very physical; the music and dancing move it along. The kids will love it.”
The Drowsy Chaperone pays tribute to the Jazz-age shows of the 1920s. To chase his blues away, a mousy modern day musical theater addict, known simply as Man in Chair, drops the needle on his favorite LP—the fictional 1928 musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone. From the crackle of his hi-fi, the musical magically bursts to life on stage.
“The play is uplifting, funny and over the top,” said lead actor Paul Page, who portrays Man in Chair. “There’s an element of slapstick and shtick. The director makes it big, lively and energetic.”
Newcomb-Madden, 86 next month, said her long directing experience has taught her to trust her vision. “I learned to direct by doing, by trial and error. Now I can read a script and envision what the show will look like. All that’s left is encouraging the actors to see it my way.”
A native Denverite, Newcomb-Madden acted at the Elitch Theatre when she was a child. She began directing in 1967 and was resident director at the Bonfils Theater for 17 years.
“I had a reputation for being a tough woman director, but I got nicer,” she said. “I mellowed and learned not to get what I want by intimidation. I’m too old and wonderful to let anything faze me; I’m older than God.”
The Drowsy Chaperone is a character-driven play-within-a-play, with narrator Man in Chair commenting on the action.
The characters are stylized and over the top, said Page. “The lineup includes a ditzy blonde, gangsters, a cocktail-wielding vamp, and a self-imposed ladies’ man named Aldolfo. He thinks he’s Ricky Ricardo but he’s more like The Three Stooges. The show has everything to keep everyone entertained.”
In contrast, the Man in Chair character is ordinary, real and honest, Page said. “He’s sweet, likable, frumpy, and deeply in love with this show and musical theater.”
Page said he relates to the Man in Chair character. “Man in Chair says that when he’s feeling blue, music helps. After my father deserted my mother, she and I lifted our spirits listening to Gypsy, My Fair Lady and other musicals. To this day, I listen to the Broadway channel in my car all the time.”
Page’s son, Zach, plays the building superintendent in this production. “It’s special to do it together,” Page said.
The original Broadway version of The Drowsy Chaperone, which opened in 2006, will be adapted for the Stapleton production. “The total running time is a bit shorter, about an hour and a half, so it comes in at a better time frame for this audience,” said Newcomb-Madden. “We included an intermission, which the Broadway production didn’t have.”
The show is edited for a family audience, said Page. “There’s a definite PG-13 quality to this show: it’s tongue-in-cheek and wink-wink. We made it more G-rated by eliminating the sexual references and cutting out the raunchy bits. But the show’s intention is intact.”
Outdoor theater production has its challenges, including lighting and sound.
“All musicals scream for spotlights, but this will be performed while it’s still light,” said Newcomb-Madden. “So the challenge is bringing the focus to different actors. We’ll do that by having everyone look at the person who’s talking.”
She said everyone in the cast will wear microphones so they can be heard. A small, live combo will provide the instrumental accompaniment. “We’ll have somebody good making the sound work,” said Newcomb-Madden.
Newcomb-Madden said she’ll keep working in theater “as long as it’s fun.”
Of the hundreds of plays she’s directed, which ones rise to the top? “The next one is always my favorite,” she said.