‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ brings Jazz Age to Boston

The modern musical isn’t beholden to any one format. The artistic and emotional gulfs between “Hamilton,” “Moulin Rouge,” and “The Book of Mormon” are immense. But a century ago, Broadway wasn’t so diverse.

“When we think about the ’20s, when there was so much escapism going on, the musicals of that time were really meant to entertain us,” director and choreographer Larry Sousa told the Herald.

This was the age of the “Ziegfeld Follies” and Gershwin musicals. It’s an age “Man in Chair” misses dearly.

The Man in Chair is the audience’s host for 2006 Broadway musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” April 5 to May 12 at the Lyric Stage. A lonely shut-in, the unnamed character cures his blues by spinning a crackling old LP of his favorite musical — fictional ’20s show “The Drowsy Chaperone.” As the record plays, the songs come to life on stage and the Man guides the audience through the play and its players.

“What I love about ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is that it gives us all that 1920s dazzle, all that super bright entertainment,” Sousa said. “Then, late in the show, it reveals its superpower, its gut punch.”

Sousa isn’t about to spoil the twist. But he will say it elevates the whole affair from a simple riff on the form to “a truly modern musical bracketed around this pastiche of ’20s musical energy.”

In many ways, Sousa is an ideal talent to helm “The Drowsy Chaperone” — a show he’s directing for the first time. He has performed in, choreographed, or directed a score of classics from “Bye Bye Birdie” to “Guys & Dolls,” “Rent” to “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Sousa has also spent the last half decade directing the madcap original musicals of Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatricals — the student organization who has put on satirical sendups for a century and a half.

“Sliding from the Hasty Pudding show to ‘Drowsy’ feels like a pretty natural move,” Sousa said. “To me, the two are very similar, very entertaining, lots of sophisticated writing, a fantastic big Broadway score… they’re full of surprises, there are farce elements, high comedy and low comedy.”

This is also the rare chance for Sousa to exercise every theatrical muscle he has. He needs to direct something with impeccable comedic timing and imbue it with heart while choreographing complex showstoppers.

“It’s a balance, and the balance is that there’s a million percent of everything going on all at once,” he said with a laugh. “There are numerous big production numbers with dancing and singing. And then the book scenes, which may seem like classic yuck it up schtick, the humor is actually quite sophisticated.”

Which is to say it has everything a Jazz Age musical has and is thoroughly modern.

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