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May 8, 2013

GPT closes season with rousing ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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GPT closes season with rousing ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’
Tim Reinman, of Grosse Pointe Farms, plays the narrator — known only as Man in Chair — in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The show is the last production in the 65th anniversary season.

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — The show may be called “The Drowsy Chaperone,” but there’s nothing sleepy about the exuberant musical that closes out Grosse Pointe Theatre’s 65th anniversary season.

An homage to Jazz Age musicals, the lighthearted “Chaperone” is a play within a play. Tim Reinman, of Grosse Pointe Farms, plays the narrator — known only as Man in Chair — who recounts one of his favorite movie musicals as it comes to life for the theater audience. When a famous young Hollywood starlet plans to abandon her film career to marry a rich, dashing playboy, her producer — realizing he’s about to lose his leading lady, who’s responsible for his studio’s success — is determined to derail the wedding any way he can. That includes hiring a couple of gangsters — played by Eddie Tujaka, of Grosse Pointe Farms, and Robby Mullinger, of Grosse Pointe City — who dress up as pastry chefs to sneak into the wedding.

Ric Selke, of Harper Woods, who’s working on costumes with costume designer Lynda Martz, of New Baltimore, said the musical has “a lot of double entendres” and is “really very clever.” Others involved with the production agree.

“It’s full of all kinds of fun comic clichés,” said director Susan Davis, of Grosse Pointe Farms.

Davis said it was the show’s music and vocal director, Jay Shaheen, of Harper Woods, who talked her into directing.

“He said this is a really fun, silly show — right up my alley,” Davis said. “I respect his ability tremendously. He’s just the best.”

Longtime GPT member Jacqueline Pfaff, of Chesterfield Township, one of the cast members, was eager to work with Davis and Shaheen again.

Davis “picks over-the-top musicals” that audiences find entertaining, Pfaff said. “She tends to bring out the best in everybody,” she continued. “She will highlight everyone somewhere. No one ever feels left out. (And) Jay … brings out the best in everyone’s singing.”

Rachel Brieden, of Grosse Pointe Park, who plays one of the maids, said the cast is “just like a family,” which has made working on the show “so much fun.” Bill McCarthy, of Detroit, who plays the worried producer, shared that sentiment.

“I’m having the time of my life,” he said. “It’s a great role. It’s a great cast.”

Other cast members include Katharine Connolly and Cyndy Nehr, of Grosse Pointe Woods; Timothy P. Higgins, of Birmingham; Jessica Tujaka, of Grosse Pointe Farms; Donna Miller, of Harper Woods; Peter DiSante and Ellen Taber, of St. Clair Shores; Danielle Caralis, of Grosse Pointe Shores; Mark Konwinski and Sal Rubino, of Clinton Township; Allison McClelland, of Grosse Pointe Park; Frank (Scott) Davis, of Ferndale; Sarah Piepszowski, of Detroit; and Warren residents Kevin Fitzhenry and Jon Lechner — who’s also the producer.

Eddie Tujaka — a public safety lieutenant in Grosse Pointe City by day — is playing one of the singing and dancing gangsters, which makes for a fun inside joke for those who know about his professional life. His daughter, Jessica, plays one of the maids.

Davis decided to give the show a unique look by costuming the cast and coloring the set pieces of the play-within-a-play in black, white and shades of gray, something stage manager Emmajean Evans, of Grosse Pointe City, said “lifts the quality” and gives the show a special visual appeal.

“This (show) is all in (the narrator’s) mind,” Davis explained. “We’re looking into his thoughts. And we dream in black and white.”

Only one character, the female lead, was allowed to have red hair for the show, she said. All of the other cast members have black, white or gray hair. The only character not dressed in black and white is the narrator.

“It’s going to look fantastic,” said Reinman, who faces the daunting task of memorizing dialogue that’s more of a show-long monologue than a conversation. His character’s actions of starting and stopping a record player are what set the rest of the scenes in motion.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” made its debut in 1998 on a Toronto stage, opened on Broadway in 2006 and earned Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score. Audiences can expect plenty of singing and dancing — including some tap numbers — and family-friendly entertainment.

“I think people will laugh from start to finish,” Davis said. “It’s a wonderful way to end the year.”

“The Drowsy Chaperone” will be performed May 9-12 and 16-18 at the War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore in Grosse Pointe Farms. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Tickets are $24. For tickets or more information, call the GPT box office at (313) 881-4004 or visit www.gpt.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.