Whether the flashy conventions of the Great White Way cause your heart to sing or groan, The Drowsy Chaperone uses the guise of musical theatre to present a comedy that overtly makes fun of its own stereotypes and dose of extra cheese. The making of the musical has become part of Broadway folklore as in its original form it was staged as a wedding present for Second City performers Bob Martin and Janet Van de Graaff, naming the two lead characters after the bride and groom. Seeing its potential, Bob Martin immediately became involved in creating this pastiche on musicals of the 1920s that they all loved. Martin’s role developed into the show’s narrator Man in Chair, a role he plays with absolute perfection and charming candor in the DanCap production, having played the role on Broadway (he won a 2006 Tony Award for the book of the show), at the Toronto Fringe, Theatre Passe Muraille and the Winter Garden Theatre. Martin’s dialogue with the audience is current, witty and appears totally spontaneous as though the entire theatre has been invited into his flat to partake in a ritual envisioning of his favourite musical. Within seconds, Martin has captivated the theatre and drawn it seamlessly into his imagination.
Man in Chair’s comedy exists on two levels. For those in the audience who sit on their own chairs with cast albums, tap dancers and monkeys on pedestals, each passionate burst of emotion and excitement resonates with charming-and sometimes sheepish- truth. For those who don’t identify with this erratic neurotic man, his antics are so hilarious that a worn-out CD of Cats is not required to “get it”.
Stepping into the role made famous by Tony award winner Sutton Foster is Andrea Chamberlain, who does not disappoint as Janet Van De Graaff. She captures with grace and poise the 1920s ingénue whose charm captures the sensual duality of the innocent girl next door and the daring, cart-wheeling, high kicking “modern woman.” Nancy Opel plays The Drowsy Chaperone fraught with delicious tributes to Merman, Garland and Minnelli, as she weaves layers in her performance of the distinguished Broadway actress masquerading as a role she loosely plays in a persona on a stage in a musical. Other memorable performances include the brilliant Vaudevillian performances by the identical duo Paul and Peter Riopelle and the dithering, spittaking Mrs. Tottendale played by the brilliantly funny Georgia Engel.
The Drowsy Chaperone has everything a good musical glorifies, exactly what real life can’t provide, a world filled with music, dance, and joy where things just seem to fall into place. Man in Chair, like the director’s commentary on a DVD, undercuts it- injecting the perfect amount of cynicism to thrust the show into today’s jaded world, while still keeping the charm of the perfect happy ending we’re still longing for in reality.
The Drowsy Chaperone plays at the Elgin Theatre until October 14th. For tickets either visit http://www.dancaptickets.com/, or call 416 644-3665.