Actor Returns to SoFla for Drowsy Chaperone
Fort Lauderdale’s Mark Ledbetter Plays Groom in Show at Broward Center

Published: December 31, 2007
For Mark Ledbetter, performing in South Florida is doubly wonderful. First, he’s in a musical that he believes is one of the funniest shows audiences will ever see, and secondly, he gets to perform in his hometown and just in time for the new year. Maybe that makes it triple wonderful.

Ledbetter is one of the stars of The Drowsy Chaperone, where he plays Robert Martin, the groom of the show, “and not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” he says.

“He’s pretty simple minded, just loving life and happy,” Ledbetter says about his character.

The show with the unusual title tells the story of a modern-day musical theater addict known simply as “Man in Chair.” To chase his blues away, he drops the needle on his favorite record, a 1928 musical comedy called The Drowsy Chaperone. The musical magically comes to life in front of his eyes, and those of the audience, telling the tale of a pampered Broadway starlet who wants to give up show business to get married. There’s more when her producer sets out to sabotage the marriage. Plus, there’s a host of characters who add to the intrigue including her chaperone, the debonaire groom, the dizzy chorine, the Latin lover, and a pair of gangsters who double as pastry chefs.

“One of the greatest things about this show is that it is an original Broadway musical, which doesn’t happen often these days. It’s not based on a book or a movie. It was created from nothing,” explains Ledbetter.

The story of how the show came to be is definitely the stuff of Broadway legend.

Second City performers Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graaff fell in love, got engaged, and ask a songwriter friend Lisa Lambert to be a best man at their wedding. Lambert was reluctant to organize a stripper-laden bachelor party, so instead she enlisted Don McKellar, Greg Morrison and a team of theatrically minded colleagues to create and perform a 40-minute original musical called “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The lead characters were named Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graaff.

And while it wasn’t as simple as that to get it to Broadway, after some additions and the making of the show into a full-blown musical, The Drowsy Chaperone opened on Broadway on May 1, 2006 and went on to win the most Tony Awards of any musical that year.

“People ask us all the time: ‘Was it an old musical?’ And that’s a source of pride for us because it’s not. It’s truly brilliant,” says Ledbetter.

Ledbetter also says that his fellow members of the touring cast are definitely A-list. Georgia Engel, famous for her roles on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” plays Mrs. Tottendale. Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie, who is widely known for playing Gilbert Blythe in the popular “Anne of Green Gables” movies, is the Man in Chair. “Andrea Chamberlin, my bride, was in the show on Broadway,” says Ledbetter, who has been on the road with the show since September.

In his eight years in professional theater, it’s the third time he has come back to his hometown to perform in a show. He appeared in Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2003 and 2004, which played also at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

It’s a wonderful homecoming for him, he says, because he believes that growing up in South Florida had a huge impact on his choice of career.

As a member of the Florida Singing Sons Boychoir, Ledbetter said he had the opportunity to tour England and Canada, and was also introduced to so much musically.

“It’s a pretty incredible group and special to South Florida,” he says.

That experience led him to perform in musicals in high school at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale and then at the Parker Playhouse.

He left South Florida to attend college at Northwestern University in Chicago.

“Many of the folks that will come to see the show at the Broward Center haven’t seen me perform on stage since I was in high school and younger. And it’s always more exciting when you have people out in the audience you know, to hear their response,” he says.

Ledbetter’s groom probably has the most showstopping number in The Drowsy Chaperone.

“Well, yes, the tap number is pretty incredible,” he admits. “But the whole show is incredible. I can honestly say, you’re going to love it. In fact, I stand by it.”