THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
What do you do when times get tough? You get nostalgic for easier, simpler, dreamier times, for complications you can understand, for guaranteed happy endings. When the character in The Drowsy Chaperone called Man in Chair starts feeling blue, he turns to his record player and puts on the original cast recording of his favourite musical, that corny old Broadway chestnut The Drowsy Chaperone, vintage 1928, when life was still very good, before the Big Crash.
The Drowsy Chaperone—a musical about a fictitious musical—was written as a lark by Canadians Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison (music and lyrics), Bob Martin and Don McKellar (book) to celebrate Martin’s wedding to actress Janet Van De Graaf. By 2006, it had become a Broadway smash, nominated for 13 Tony Awards. Here in its first independent production, directed by new Playhouse boss Max Reimer, the show proves the perfect tonic for our anxious times and a sure-fire hit for the holidays.
Jay Brazeau at his funniest, most adorable, big-bodied best plays the lonely Man in Chair, who escorts us into his beloved world of 1920s musicals. Sharing his feelings about theatre in general (“Don’t you hate intermissions?”) and The Drowsy Chaperone in particular (“You sure couldn’t get away with a performance like that nowadays!”), bopping along with the dancers and singing with the singers, Brazeau’s Man makes the big stage feel intimate and personal. You can’t help but love him.
The musical-within-the-musical plot about the wedding of Robert (Laird Mackintosh) and Janet (the fabulous Debby Timuss) is only an excuse for a series of comic routines and period musical set pieces accompanied by Lloyd Nicholson’s tight five-piece band and Dayna Tekatch’s fun choreography. Jean Claude Olivier’s colourful set and Phillip Clarkson’s delicious costumes provide the eye-candy.
Besides Brazeau and Timuss, whose showy number “Show Off” is a highlight, the scene-stealer here is Thom Allison, hilarious as the broadly ethnic, narcissistic lothario Aldolpho. Playing the tippling title character, Gabrielle Jones has the show’s best voice, belting out the anthemic “As We Stumble Along.” Neil Minor and Shawn Macdonald are very funny as a pair of punning, dancing gangsters disguised as cooks, and team up with producer Feldzieg (Mark Burgess) and Betty Boopish Kitty (Nathalie Marable) for the lively ensemble tap number “Toledo Surprise.” The stunned Mrs. Tottendale (Nora McLellan) and her butler Underling (David Marr) provide some lively vaudeville-style duets.
Despite its loving homage to the ‘20s, the show’s music is less witty than its lyrics. But Reimer’s decision not to mike the singers means the lyrics sometimes can’t be heard over the sound of the band. And we want to hear every word of their message: Don’t worry, be happy.