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Eight O' Clock Theatre presents Tony Award-winning musical 'The Drowsy Chaperone'

A musical-theater fan, known only as “Man in Chair” (played by John Forgione), delights in the presence of starlet Janet (Margee Murray) during rehearsal of Eight O’Clock Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

A musical-theater fan, known only as “Man in Chair” (played by John Forgione), delights in the presence of starlet Janet (Margee Murray) during rehearsal of Eight O’Clock Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone.

Perhaps he's a little agoraphobic. Some might even describe him as obsessive. However, stick with the gentleman known only as "Man in Chair" and you'll be taken into a glamorous fantasy world filled with gorgeous dames, mobsters, comedic mishaps and song and dance tunes reminiscent of Broadway during the Prohibition era.

Through May 22, Eight O'Clock Theatre will present The Drowsy Chaperone at the Largo Cultural Center. The theater company will be the first community theater in Pinellas County to stage the musical comedy, which garnered several 2006 Tony Awards including Best Book and Best Score.

It was a little more than a year ago that Eight O'Clock's board of directors decided to include Chaperone as one of its offerings during the 2010-2011 season, said the theater company's business manager, Betsy Byrd.

"James (Grenelle, the director) told us he wanted to do The Drowsy Chaperone and we wanted to give him this opportunity," Byrd said. "It was about at that time that the rights for this first became available to amateur theaters like ours. So we got excited.''

The premise of the show is that the audience finds itself in the middle of an apartment belonging to the show's narrator, Man in Chair (John Forgione). Picture a depressed, Woody Allen kind of guy who yearns for Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers, but when it comes to the Lion King and Elton John or Spider-Man and U2 … ehhh, not so much.

To lift his spirits, he plays a scratchy record album. It is the soundtrack of his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone. In this made-up world, Chaperone made its Broadway debut in 1928.

The apartment swiftly turns into a magical, musical world with madcap characters. There is Janet Van De Graaf (Margee Murray), a pampered starlet who wants to give up showbiz to marry Robert Martin (Brian Chunn). We meet the Drowsy Chaperone (Stephanie Fox), who is actually more tipsy than drowsy and is given the assignment to care for the bride-to-be. There is also Mr. Feldzieg (Christopher Strong), a movie producer needing to sabotage the nuptials to keep two mobsters/pastry chefs (Cengiz Dokumaci and Elliot Alexander) happy. In order to save himself, Feldzieg enlists Aldolpho (Omar Montes), a bumbling Latin lothario, to seduce Janet.

Of course, things don't go as anyone has planned. Hilarious antics ensue, including a spoof on The King and I.

As Man in Chair, Forgione provides running commentary. He stops the LP to share gossipy tidbits on the stars of the show. He guides the audience through the silly and sweet songs while taking the time to point out his favorites. Forgione, a graduate of the New York Academy of Theatrical Arts in Manhattan, says portraying Man in Chair came naturally.

"I wanted this part,'' he said. "I am a Broadway fanatic. I am the Man in Chair. If people want to listen, I'll talk about the theater all night.''

The Drowsy Chaperone marks the sixth time the director, Grenelle, has teamed up with Emi Stefanov, the show's musical director. The pair worked together during the Largo Cultural Center's 2009 Broadway Series as well as three shows at the Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater, A Grand Night for Singing, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Sweet Charity.

Grenelle knows he can rely on Stefanov's expertise, and on this show, the music at times can get very complicated. "In one song, for example, there is an 11-part harmony,'' Grenelle said.

Stefanov, a Belgrade native who holds a master's degree in piano performance from Southern Methodist University, agreed.

At times, the harmonies seem discordant,'' she said. "The person sitting right next to you might be singing a note that doesn't seem to harmonize well with yours, but it's correct.''

She also considers Grenelle serving as director a blessing. "He understands music, and that makes me so happy.''

>>If you go

The Drowsy Chaperone

Eight O'Clock Theatre presents The Drowsy Chaperone through May 22 at the Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25; $22.50 for groups of 10 or more; $12 for students younger than 19, plus applicable fees. For tickets or information, visit largoarts.com or call (727) 587-6793.

Eight O' Clock Theatre presents Tony Award-winning musical 'The Drowsy Chaperone' 05/05/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 3:03pm]
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