Musical Spoof is Over the Top
If you love musical theatre, and you have a good sense of humour about being a musical theatre geek, you’ll enjoy The Drowsy Chaperone, now running at the Palace Theatre in London. An exceptionally good production for community theatre, this show spoofs the old genre of musicals.
An all-Canadian show, The Drowsy Chaperone has an interesting history. Originally written by their friends, it was performed for Bob Martin and Janet Van de Graaf as a wedding gift. From that performance for family and friends Bob Martin and Don McKellar re-worked it, and the Chaperone made its way to the Toronto Fringe. There it caught the attention of David Mirvish. After a run in Toronto, it went to Broadway, with the incomparable Sutton Foster starring as Janet.
I was fortunate enough to see it later in Toronto when it went on tour, with Bob Martin himself playing the Man in Chair. Also in that cast was Georgia Engel (best known as Georgette, Ted’s girlfriend/wife on the old Mary Tyler Moore show) in the role of Mrs. Tottendale. It was a hilarious production.
So I was delighted to see it now in London – it is one show where “over-the-top” is the way to go. This cast pushes it beyond the limit, enjoying themselves as zany sterotypes, and the audience on opening night ate it up. Credit goes to director Rick Smith for letting them be extreme and making it work.
A musical within a play, this story has a couple of secondary plots and allows a musical theatre nerd to enjoy the show on various levels. An apparently lonely man sits in his chair in his tiny apartment, going through his old collection of record albums, putting a favourite musical on his old record player. He narrates the story, telling the audience about this particular old musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, explaining bits of the plot and critiquing it between songs. He also fills us in the actors playing the roles, giving us juicy tidbits of celebrity gossip of the day. As the record plays, the characters he describes come to life right there in his living room. They crawl out of his Murphy bed, walk in through his fridge and even dance on his countertop.
Donald D’Haene is a natural as Man in Chair. We believe him when he says he is feeling a little anxious, which makes him sad to feel anxiety at his age, which in turn makes him feel blue. The cure? Listen to some old musicals on the record player. D’Haene is delightful as he watches the musical unfold in his kitchen, especially when he gets up and dances with the characters who of course, are oblivious to his presence.
Jonathan Gysbers as Robert Martin, the groom, shows off his strong vocal and tap dancing talent in the number Cold Feets. Duane Woods as Best Man George joins in the lively tap dance. Christine McKeon is excellent as Janet Van de Graaf, the lovely bride. She excels in “I don’t want to Show Off no more”, giving an excellent demonstration of her song and dance talent, along with many other entertaining skills.
Ceris Thomas is perfect as the drunken, drowsy Chaperone, with her rousing anthem “As we Stumble Along”. Her suitor, Adolpho, played hilariously by Bill Hill, provides many of the laughs with his melodramatic moves. Other audience favourites are the gangsters/pastry chefs Matthew J. Stewart and Sam Shoebottom. Mrs. Tottendale (Kathryn MacDonald) and her Underling (Jordan Henry), along with Feldzieg (Chris Wood) and Kitty (Alana Rapacz) also add to the fun. Angela Southern shows strong vocals as Trix the Aviatrix to wrap up the show.
Martin and McKellar have written a clever satire of old musicals, but only a musical theatre aficionado can truly appreciate it. If you regularly go to musical theatre, and you enjoy a hoot, take in this production at the Palace this week. There are many laugh-out-loud moments.
The Drowsy Chaperone continues at the Palace Theatre, London until April 1. For tickets, call the Palace Theatre box office at 519-432-1029 or visit www.palacetheatre.ca.
The Drowsy Chaperone
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Directed by Rick Smith
Choreographed by Laura Wood
Musical direction by Andrew Rethazi
Performed by Donald D’Haene, Christine McKeon, Jonathan Gysbers, Bill Hill, Jordan Henry, Duane Woods, Matthew J. Stewart, Sam Shoebottom, Ceris Thomas, et al.
Musical Theatre Productions, Palace Theatre, London
March 23 to April 1, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson