I know why the blue bird sings.
The Drowsy Chaperone imagines a woman imagining a musical, The Drowsy Chaperone.
The Drowsy Chaperone
Presented by the MIT Musical Theatre Guild
Directed by Jacob Martin ’18
Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Kresge Little Theatre
Tongue-in-cheek mockery will never go out of style. Told through a frame story, The Drowsy Chaperone begins with a reminiscing Woman in Chair (Rachel Nations ’17). She plays an old record and imagines a fictional musical of the 1920s, The Drowsy Chaperone, a musical she has never seen. While she offers sarcastic commentary, we soon realize it is her escape from feeling “blue.” It is only suitable, then, that her favorite character in the musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, sings, “As we stumble along / on life's funny journey. / As we stumble along into the blue.”
Her narration is laced with wistful nostalgia in her state of blue. The musical’s characters behave as classic caricatures — they live through music, they fall in love, they marry. It truly is the 1920s theatre world, the Jazz Age, the era when a musical’s plot links the songs together, not the other way around.
Of course, the fictional The Drowsy Chaperone isn’t a musical from the 1920s, yet like The Princess Bride, The Drowsy Chaperone lightly mocks its genre’s tropes while never forgetting to celebrate these quirks. Take archetypes such as Aldopho (Alejandro Vientos ’17), the stereotypical Latin lover, or Kitty (Kim Dauber ’18), the ditzy showgirl, or Janet van de Graaf (Alex Martirosian ’20), the vain star of Broadway, and put them all together.
It’s another screwball plot, with all the makings and misunderstandings of a traditional comedy. Consequently, it’s clear that the musical will end happily. What begins as one questionable marriage ends with four happy married (rather, soon-to-be-married) couples flying off with the aviator Trix (Sara Volz ’17) to Río. Why not have two gangsters (Diego Barea ’20 and Juan Jaramillo ’16) disguised as pastry chefs, singing and dancing while still threatening Broadway producer Felzieg (James Gilles ’18) with a “Toledo Surprise?” Why not have Mrs. Tottendale (Caralyn Cutlip ’18), the aging hostess, fall in love with her servant Underling?
There is a modern tendency to make things darker, grittier, more real. But sometimes, we need a dose of idealism. We see enough of the world already, and all we can do is stumble along. This is a story of idealized nostalgia for lost love. The question that haunts the Woman in Chair is whether the chaperone advised Janet to live or leave. Thus, it begs us to ask another age old question: is it better to have loved or to have never loved at all? The musical never answers that question; instead, the 1920s musical characters break the fourth wall and welcome the Woman into their singing world. The chorus reprises the chaperone’s song, “But as long as we can hear that little blue bird / There'll be a song as we stumble along.” So we press on.
Many of us have that one film or that one series that we cannot justify our love for, that guilty pleasure with narrative flaws that we can ignore because of what that story means to us. The beauty of film, of novels, of any storytelling medium is that it relieves us from reality. And occasionally, it reminds us of life, of joy, and of all that we feel deeply. So long as the blue bird sings on, so can we.