The last time Roberto Carrasco sang at the University of Illinois, he performed as a grad student at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Ten years later, he is taking on a much larger venue: Assembly Hall, where he will be a lead role in "The Drowsy Chaperone," the last installment of this season's News-Gazette Broadway Series and a musical Carrasco describes as "extremely witty and clever, and very, very original." The production will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
"The show is one of the funniest shows I've ever seen," he said.
A Tony Award-winning homage to all things grand and grandly silly about musicals and vaudeville, "The Drowsy Chaperone" takes place in modern times – sort of. A "Man in Chair" (that's his character name) sits in his apartment, and "he's feeling kind of blue," Carrasco said. The man puts on a record of a 1928 musical, and a show begins to play out in front of him.
In the musical, Carrasco plays a "silent film star, world-class alchoholic and self-proclaimed ladies man," he said. "It's very hilarious. If I could describe my hair to you, I have a big black pompadour with a huge white streak ... I walk on stage, and people just laugh. It's a very fun role to do."
His lothario, Aldolpho, is coerced to woo an actress out of marrying, as the actress' producer fears his shows will fail if their star retires from showbiz.
But plans don't go according to plan in vaudeville. "I basically seduce the wrong woman," Carrasco said.
Meanwhile, the Man in Chair watches the wit and slapstick action. "Whenever he puts on the record, then the musical comes to life. He's on stage the whole time watching it," Carrasco said. "He'll lift the needle off the record, and we'll freeze."
The sitting man will also inject his own opinions into the action on the stage. "He'll talk through the show, give character history or personal commentary, 'Oh, I hate this scene, or I love this scene,'" Carrasco said. "The record will skip, and we actually have to actually act and skip."
The hijinks add up to plenty of fun, he said – nothing long, slow or nap-inducing for audiences.
"What I hope, especially during the economic times," Carrasco said, "(is that) they just really have a great time, and they just really have a great laugh. What I hope they get is an appreciation for theater. The show appeals to people who love musical theater and who have never seen musical theater."
For Carrasco, his 60th-odd performance as Aldolpho marks the 1999 UI grad's first return trip to Champaign-Urbana since graduation, "my little 10-year reunion," he joked.
So where does he hope to go in his time off? Back to the beginning.
"If I can, I definitely want to go to Krannert Performing Arts Center," he said, calling the visit "a little of a nostalgic journey."
"The Drowsy Chaperone" will also mark Carrasco's first national tour with a musical, after performances with the Boston Pops and in operas. And thankfully, he said, he's in a good one.
"The musical's so full of life. It's constantly evolving. It's never dull or drudgery," he said. "You know it can happen, but not in this show. All of the cast will agree. We all have a blast."
Tickets, which cost $32 to $45, with UI student discounts, are available at Assembly Hall Box Office, www.ticketmaster.com or 333-5000.