David Hastings had never seen “The Drowsy Chaperone” in its entirety but he knew that if the opportunity ever came along he wanted to direct it.
“I’d seen film clips and talked about it with friends. I knew it was the type of light, feel-good show that I would like to direct,” said Hastings, drama teacher at Olathe South High School.
So when Tim Bair, producing artistic director of The Theatre in the Park, asked Hastings if he would be interested in directing it this season his answer was an emphatic “Absolutely, I would.”
“The Drowsy Chaperone,” being produced at The Theatre in the Park for the first time, opened Friday.
The show is a musical comedy about a lonely, depressed older man sitting alone listening to 1920s music when a make believe Broadway play suddenly comes to life in his apartment, breaking the monotony of his dreary day.
“Like it is for the old gentleman in the chair, life can be depressing for all of us at one time or another. It’s good to find an escape, even if it’s temporary,” said Hastings, who lives in Olathe. “That’s what this show’s about.”
His production staff includes Elise Peterson, director of choral music at Olathe South, and Pam Williamson, choral music director at Olathe Northwest.
Eric Magnus, drama teacher at Shawnee Mission West High School, plays Man in Chair. “Some people might think I’m a little like the man in the chair, but I’m really quite different,” he said with a laugh.
Magnus, who’s also artistic director at The Barn Players in Mission, has been performing and directing for 30 years. “I have quite a few theater tidbits of Broadway history in my mind. I like to do three or four shows a year in community theater. You could say my life is theater 24/7 ,” he added.
Magnus was in “Urinetown” at The Theatre in the Park, also directed by Hastings, in 2012. “I played a bad guy, the head of the Water Company,” he said.
Trudy Hurley, in her 15th show at The Theatre, plays the Chaperone. “You could say theater is my happy place,” she said. “I’m having a great time playing opposite Jay Coombes, who plays Adolpho, a self-proclaimed Latin lover.”
Hurley lives in Shawnee. Coombes, of Olathe, also is choreographing the show.
Janet Van De Graaf, a Broadway star, is portrayed by Erica Punch of Leawood. Janet is involved in an on-again-off again romance with Robert Martin, a wealthy oil tycoon, played by Jacob Elliot of Lenexa.
Punch, a Blue Valley North graduate, and Elliot, a Shawnee Mission South grad, are friends from their high school days and now are classmates at Oklahoma City University where both are majoring in musical theater. They were together in “Hairspray,” co-produced at The Theatre in the Park and the Jewish Community Center in 2013.
“I absolutely love being Janet,” Punch said. “I went to auditions this year hoping to land that role. It’s such fun.
“I get to wear a brunette wig,” said Punch, who is blonde. “People won’t recognize me. Jacob and I are having a lot of laughs with our rocky romance.”
Elliot’s other appearance at The Theatre was in “Sweeney Todd.”
“It’s definitely a change. The shows couldn’t be more different,” he said. “Chaperone really resonates with me because I’m such a musical theater nerd. It has a good message. We all need an escape from the real world sometimes.”
Don Leonard of Olathe likes his role as Feldzieg, a Broadway producer who tries to persuade Janet to leave Martin and star in his show, Feldzieg’s Follies.
“I like being a Broadway producer. I spend most of my time trying to manipulate everyone around me but in the end wind up being manipulated myself,” Leonard said. “The show is so much fun, so many laughs for everyone, cast and audience. There’s no downside.”
Kitty, played by Stasha Case of Olathe is a ditzy flapper who wants to replace Jane in Feldzieg’s Follies. She tries to convince Feldzieg that he asked her to marry him. Mrs. Tottendale, an aging hostess who likes being in the middle of things, is portrayed by Ruth Baum Bigus of Overland Park. Zach Green, also of Overland Park, plays George, who will be Robert’s best man, if the marriage ever occurs.
The cast of “The Drowsy Chaperone” includes three generations of one family: Frosty White, plays the superintendent and is in the ensemble; his daughters, Stasha Case, who plays Kitty, and Hurley, the Chaperone, and Hurley’s daughter, Lauryn, 15, is in the ensemble.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” runs tonight and Sunday and again Wednesday through Saturday at The Theatre in the Park. Curtain time is 8:30 p.m.