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Song and Dance Man 

Will Coviello talks to Ricky Graham, the star of Jefferson Performing Arts Society's The Drowsy Chaperone

click to enlarge Ricky Graham stars in The Drowsy Chaperone.
  • Ricky Graham stars in The Drowsy Chaperone.

Some theatergoers attending The Drowsy Chaperone may be introduced to unfamiliar sounds: a needle skipping on a record and all the fuzz and static of old turntable systems.

  "That static — I love that," says Ricky Graham, who plays a record-collecting fan of old musicals. "It's the sound of a time machine starting up."

  The musical debuted in Toronto 1998, as Internet music sharing was about to crush record stores. Acting as a sort of narrator/impresario, a record collector conjures an imaginary Jazz Age musical with showgirls, a tycoon, mobsters and the euphemistic namesake, a serially tipsy chaperone to the showgirl. Chaperone opens the Jefferson Performing Arts Society's (JPAS) 2011-2012 season, and it features a cast of local favorites including Graham, Brian Peterson, Janet Shea and others.

  Graham's character, known as The Man in the Chair, is a devoted fan of Broadway shows of the 1920s and '30s, and Graham could not feel more comfortable in the role.

  "I saw the show in New York and it was scary," Graham says. "I knew immediately that I've always been the Man in the Chair. It was sort of shocking to see a character version of myself."

  The imagined musical features a glamorous showgirl, Janet, who is going to leave show business to marry Robert, an oil tycoon. But the producers of her show are afraid they'll lose money without her, so they try to sabotage the engagement by having the bumbling Adolpho seduce her.

  Director Gary Rucker saw the Tony Award-winning New York production and also imagined a local cast for it, including Brian Peterson as the clumsy meddler Adolpho.

  "Brian can do more with his eyebrow than lots of people can do with their whole body," Rucker says. "He's really good at physical comedy."

  Rucker has combined both the nostalgic elements and contemporary flourishes. Since the Jazz Age musical is imagined, he and the costume director embellished the flapper girl frilliness of the show and other outfits. "(With Adolpho) we went full matador," Rucker says.

  "This is a hilarious musical," he adds. "It's one of the funnier musicals out there."

  The production opens a season that includes the musicals Fiddler on the Roof, Nunset Boulevard, Hairspray, The Bikinis, The Light in the Piazza and Xanadu. The season also includes Jim Fitzmorris' new play From a Long Way Off, the comedy The Hallelujah Girls, the audience interactive show Flanagan's Wake and productions for young audiences.

  JPAS will present shows at a variety of venues. Some productions will open in Jefferson Parish and then travel to theaters on the Northshore, in Hammond, Slidell and as far away as Meridian, Miss.

  "It's great to be able to take a JPAS product to other communities," says JPAS director Dennis Assaf. "The 'Society' in our name doesn't tell you what we do, but the key to success is the diversity in our programming."

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