Topics: Alumni, College of Fine Arts

January 26, 2012

Students Andy Pickerill (Aldolpho) and Allison Sill (The Drowsy Chaperone) star in Ball State~~~s performance of "The Drowsy Chaperone." The musical opens on the University Theatre stage Feb. 9.
Who better to help students learn lines for the upcoming Ball State University production of "The Drowsy Chaperone" than the actress who brought the musical to Broadway? Tony Award-winning star Sutton Foster is co-directing the show, which opens on the University Theatre stage Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. Additional performances are scheduled for Feb. 10-11 and 15-18, with a matinee scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Feb. 12.

"It's a musical that's a love letter to musicals and the theater itself," said Foster, who's made several trips to Muncie to help with the show's preparation. Her role in the original, as showgirl Janet Van De Graaf, landed her a Tony nomination, one of many she's garnered in her illustrious stage career. "It's about celebrating the joy that comes with seeing a live musical production."

"The Drowsy Chaperone," which made its Broadway debut in 2006, opens with a man ruminating on a fictional musical comedy from the 1920s, "The Drowsy Chaperone." As he listens to its songs, he's transported into the musical. Once there, he inserts himself into the plot of the show-within-a-show, which centers on Janet's plans to give up her career for marriage and how her departure from the theater will spell doom for the producer she's leaving in the lurch.

'A rare partnership'

Bill Jenkins, theater department chair, is directing Ball State's production of "The Drowsy Chaperone." Robert Kvam, dean of the College of Fine Arts, will direct music with choreography by Christie Zimmerman, assistant professor of dance.

Jenkins said it's an honor to welcome Foster back. The star has been to campus a handful of times since 2006, teaching master classes and workshops with theater students. When Jenkins suggested she return in 2012 to co-direct a musical, "The Drowsy Chaperone" immediately came to mind.

"Sutton shared that it's one of her favorite musicals she's ever done," he said. "She has such a keen understanding of the show and has been helping our students with exercises to better develop their characters."

One of those student actors is senior musical theater Betsy Farrar, preparing for her role as Janet. "Getting to work with Sutton on a role that she originated has been an incredible experience," said Farrar, a Missouri native. "It's a pretty rare partnership for a school to have an ongoing professional relationship with the hottest actress on Broadway."

Making time for Ball State

Foster said each visit to Ball State enriches her appreciation for the university. "I grew up in Michigan, and there is a great vibe at this school that reminds me of my Midwestern roots," she said. "Ball State is special to me and so are these kids. I love this program and hope to continue coming here for a long time."

The department is grateful Foster made time in her demanding schedule to help with the show. The actress is still performing as Reno Sweeney in the revival of "Anything Goes," which earned her a second Tony Award for best actress in 2011. She won her first Tony in 2002 for her breakout role in "Thoroughly Modern Millie." In addition to her latest Broadway act, Foster has filmed a television pilot, "Bun Heads," which may be picked up for distribution by ABC Family later this year.  She will return to campus the week leading up to "The Drowsy Chaperone" and plans to attend the musical's opening night.

"You could say I'm busy," Foster said with a smile. "But Ball State is important to me, and I really want to be here for this."

Tickets for the performance cost $16 for the general public, $14 for faculty and staff, $12 for senior citizens and $11 for students. They are available from the University Theatre Box Office, open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the box office at 765-285-8749 or visit for more information.