The Drowsy Chaperone

Published: September 26, 2007
The initial engagement of The Drowsy Chaperone’s national tour marks a return to the home of its birth, and the Tony Award-winning musical’s fourth Toronto production since 1998, when the show began as a brief, light-hearted entertainment for the wedding of actors Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graaff. Fortunately, the show’s beguiling charm has remained intact over the years.

Only Torontonians, however, will see Martin, the show’s Tony Award-winning co-creator, as the narrator called “Man in Chair.” (Jonathan Crombie, who’s currently playing the role on Broadway, will take over for the remainder of the tour). A sweet, seemingly gay man who has a shy, uncertain relationship with real life, Man in Chair eagerly leads the audience through his favorite show, a silly fictional 1928 musical called The Drowsy Chaperone. The Man’s yearning enthusiasm for the colorful, bouncy world of the stage is smartly married to his acerbic comments on the action, the characters, and today’s musicals.

Toward the end of the musical, the script acquires a surprising amount of depth, as Man in Chair drops a huge clue about why he loves escapist musicals. “Everything works out in musicals. In real life, nothing works out and the people who burst into song are the hopelessly deranged,” he observes. In addition to the clever book by Martin and Don McKellar, the show is further enhanced by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison’s witty music and lyrics for the show-within-a-show, which features an actress bride named Janet Van De Graaff who wants (maybe) to give up show business and a cheerful if vacuous groom.

Andrea Chamberlain, who performed the role of Janet on Broadway, ably steps into the national spotlight and claims Janet’s delightful big number, “Show Off,” as her own. Mark Ledbetter perfectly captures Robert, the clueless groom; along with Richard Vida as best man George, he taps up a storm in “Cold Feets.” Other characters with a stake in the wedding day include theatrical producer Felzieg, played with appropriate bombast by Cliff Bemis, and the title character, played with drunken, Beatrice Lillie-panache by Nancy Opel.

James Moye’s Adolpho, a stereotypical ”Latin lover“ hired to distract Janet, is convincingly egotistical, but his makeup needs to be toned down a bit; he currently looks like a refugee from Bride of Frankenstein. Georgia Engel reprises her ditzy-blonde act as elderly wedding hostess Mrs. Tottendale, but Robert Dorfman, as her loyal butler Underling, could dial down the mugging and eye-popping a little.

Casey Nicholaw’s direction sparkles as brightly as ever, but the pace slowed occasionally on opening night (with a partisan hometown audience knowingly cheering their favorite lines). David Gallo’s brilliant scene design, which brings the glittery world of Drowsy into the Man’s drab apartment, seems a little less spectacular than its Broadway version. But it still retains its sense of wonder --as does The Drowsy Chaperone.