The Drowsy Chaperone

At PKSB, we are always excited to learn about our employees’ outside interests. We’ve known for a while of Project Architect Robert Bianco’s involvement in the Performing Arts. For the past 4 seasons he’s performed with a community theatre group at Congregation Rodeph Sholom on Manhattan’s Upper Westside. This year, he was able to incorporate his design skills as a part of the production’s creative team. With the help of fellow architect and producer Brad Zizmor (of A+I), and construction by Paul Arnsten, Robert designed the set for this season’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone.

The show is a campy send-up of early musical comedy told from the perspective of an eccentric recluse. The unnamed narrator is cooped up in his dingy apartment listening to a recording of the fictional title musical. His vivid imagination brings to life a collection of outlandish prohibition-era characters all gathered to celebrate the wedding of a glamorous showgirl and her wealthy fiancé. 

Above, an early design sketch; Below, the completed set.

Above, an early design sketch; Below, the completed set.

The premise presents an exciting design challenge: create a setting that accommodates both the narrator's real life and his fantasy world. The concept became one of found objects appropriated in unexpected ways: A kitchen island becomes a pool cabana; a refrigerator door becomes a grand entrance; ironing boards and a fan become an airplane... 

Before the wedding guests arrive.

Before the wedding guests arrive.

The ensemble takes flight for their honeymoon in Rio.  Photo credit: Jacob Perman Photography

The ensemble takes flight for their honeymoon in Rio.  Photo credit: Jacob Perman Photography

For more photos of the production, visit Rodeph Sholom’s website.

Coincidentally, Rodeph Sholom was a PKSB project in the early 2000’s before Robert joined the firm. PKSB designed an exquisite rooftop chapel and multi-purpose space and developed a master planning concept for the entire facility. 

Congregation Rodeph Sholom Rooftop Chapel, PKSB  Photo credit: Paul Warchol

Congregation Rodeph Sholom Rooftop Chapel, PKSB  Photo credit: Paul Warchol

The theatre company was started (actually, resurrected after a decades-long hiatus) shortly after that expansion. We like to think that the work that PKSB contributed to the building played a small but critical role in allowing the congregation to expand its programming. The upper level is often used for small ensemble rehearsals when the theatre space is being used for other events. Accommodating a community group of 40 adults and 30 children would not be possible without the synagogue’s numerous flexible spaces.

Over the years, we’ve become more and more aware of the intricacies of the building and how it functions. Like Theatre, it is a breathing organism – full of life and constantly changing.