The range of dance and movement in the backstage musical comedy at the Marquis Theater earned Casey Nicholaw a 2006 Tony Award nomination for Best Choreography, a nice companion for his Best Direction of a Musical nomination for the same show.
Beth Leavel, a Tony nominee for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, for playing the title character, said homework for the 1920s style of the show began with the 2005 Drowsy tryout in Los Angeles.
"Casey brought in movie upon movie upon movie, so we could all, stylistically, be on the same page," Leavel told Playbill.com.
If you look closely at movies of the 1920s and '30s — the Warner Bros. musicals or pictures featuring the Marx Brothers — the dance has a lot of "floppy arms," Leavel said.
"When we do the choreography the goal is not to be completely clean, with all of us looking like one dancer," Leavel explained. "It's the opposite because everything was so 'loosey goosey' back then. There's one part of [the musical number] 'Toledo Surprise' which actually came out of an acting exercise. All of us had to come up with our own dance." What would Beatice Stockwell's dance be? What would Ukulele Lil move? How would the shticky Tall Brothers kick up their heels?
"There's a moment in 'Toledo Surprise' where we all have a chance to do that," Leavel said. "You look at that and go, what in the world!?! But you look at movies of the period, everyone's doing their own thing, and bouncing around."
Leavel said, "'Loosey goosey' is the word we always used. [Casey would say] 'That needs to be more loosey goosey! Don't be so clean!'"
Leavel suggested The Drowsy Chaperone was from a period before choreographers from the world of ballet had infiltrated musicals. Movement for musicals was still informed by vaudeville.
"We thought a lot about the characters' backgrounds, their livelihood, how they got paid — these were little roots that planted our characters," Leavel said, indicating that scrappy vaudeville routines were indeed part of the history of Drowsy's fictive showbiz characters.
Good thing Leavel's actress character, Beatrice Stockwell, didn't train with George Balanchine. Loosey Goosey suits her just fine, she said.
"Oh, good, more sloppy?" she deadpanned. "I can handle that."