THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
THEATRE UNDER THE STARS, Malkin Bowl, Until August 19th (with possible hold-over)
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Liz Gloucester
This year Theatre Under the Stars are honouring Canada's 150th anniversary with 'The Drowsy Chaperone' first performed in 1998 in Toronto after its birth at a stag do for writers Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison's friend Bob Martin.
Elements of the stag definitely remain in this giddy parody of a roaring twenties musical; where plot and substance give way to 'go big or go home' dance routines and politically incorrect stereotypes. True to the form of the age - the characters are one-dimensional, the narrative superficial and the lyrics nonsensical. Sexual innuendo abounds and adult content lurks around every corner allowing those who have purchased full price tickets to enjoy something less PG than its sister show Mary Poppins.
The performance begins with a 'blue' entrance (not an adult reference) from Man in Chair (MIC) Shawn Macdonald, a down on his luck semi-recluse suffering the aftermath of a divorce and unwilling to answer his telephone. He trudges around the stage putting away his groceries before 'noticing' the audience and allowing them to glimpse into his escape world; that of sticking on an old record and disappearing into the magical realm of musical theatre (and brandy).
The start of the show disappointed me. All the other characters (apart from the brief appearance of the Super of MIC's building) are classic stock Broadway personalities; the talk of the town showgirl, the handsome lead with blinding teeth, his well-meaning best friend, dancing gangsters etc. Alone on the stage, MacDonald had a chance to show a glimpse of naturalism. A tiny insight into a real downtrodden life which is lit up when it peeks behind the velvet curtain and hears the orchestra roar. Macdonald unfortunately did not do justice to himself, as he later appeared to have wonderful moments of humility, joy and frustration throughout the rest of the performance. His frustrated sighs were very fake and his movements not in keeping with a true interpretation of a man entering his home after a long day. It was mechanical and amateurish.
The script is very funny in parts, especially when MIC's dream world is broken momentarily. I enjoyed the record-skipping sequence which occurred in 'Toledo Surprise'. Here the company was stuck on a high kicking loop until MIC moved the arm of the player. The fast-forwarding of MIC's least favourite scene featuring an extensively rouged and ringletted Sheryl Anne Wheaton's Tottendale and her Underling (played by Peter Stainton) has the former spitting a gush of vodka all over the latter several times in quick succession. At the beginning of Act Two MIC accidentally puts the wrong record on the machine due to a tidying mishap and we are regaled with an example of old school racist chinoiserie, the sort we recognise as terrible and passé but still plays as embarrassingly hilarious.
Stand out performances came from Kai Bradbury and Nicholas Bradbury as the looming gangsters disguised as bakers; whose vaudevillian precision and sharp choreography, profiteroles and petit-fours in hand left me in stitches; and Shannon Hanbury as Janet Van de Graaf who shone particularly bright in 'Show Off' where impressive vocals were strong amidst physical tricks, kicks and multiple costume changes.
The real star of 'The Drowsy Chaperone' is the musical technicality. This ship of beautiful voices and splendid 12 piece band is captained expertly by Kevin Michael Cripps and not a single beat is out of sync. If I had been listening to the cast soundtrack, as indeed MIC is doing I would have been blown away. Alas the visual aesthetics of the piece didn't quite live up to the heavenly sounds it was projecting.
The show is well worth a visit if you just 'want a story and a few good songs that will take you away' but the memory of it will have seeped out of your skull come the morning.
By Daphne Cranbrook
We’re welcomed into TUTS’ production of The Drowsy Chaperone through the cozy apartment of Man in Chair. He enters, shoulders hunched, feeling “blue,” and invites us to lighten our collective mood with a little listen to his favourite musical on vinyl: The Drowsy Chaperone. Instantly we are transported to the land of flappers, farce, and follies, where a wedding is about to take place, if everything goes as planned. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
Everything about this show is done with a wink; it’s a musical about musicals, really, and, more specifically, a musical about musicals of the roaring twenties. The plot is ridiculous, the stock characters are over-the-top, and the musical numbers strive to involve all the glitz and glamour of the Follies. And while 21st century audiences might roll our eyes at some of these contrivances, rest assured: the writers and composers are rolling their eyes with us. It’s nice to see a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Chaperone definitely doesn’t.
From the start, the entire show was an affectation, which is appropriate given the nature of it. However, it made the distinction between the ‘real’ world of the Man in Chair and the musical world of the show being performed in his imagination (and onstage in front of us) less marked. While charming and talented in comedic timing, Shawn Macdonald’s Man in Chair wasn’t quite believable as the naturalistic everyman the audience needs, and in turn, I found it hard to believe in (or even care about) his desperate need to escape into the world of The Drowsy Chaperone.
The lovely leading lady of the Vancouver theatre scene, Caitriona Murphy, plays the title character, a drunk and disorderly chaperone to the bride, but isn’t given much to sink her teeth into. Whether it’s just the nature of the role, or Ms. Murphy wasn’t convinced herself, but her performance seemed somewhat half-hearted and didn’t add much to the production as a whole, which is a shame considering her vast talent.
Shannon Hanbury was perfect as Janet Van de Graaf, with her effortlessly beautiful voice and controlled yet graceful movement. Stuart Barkley, who plays Janet’s fiancee, Robert Martin, had the opportunity to show off both his physical and vocal chops, which he did without a misstep. The showstoppers were Dimitrios Stephanoy as Aldolpho, with his cape-swirling and dumb catchphrase, and Kai Bradbury and Nicholas Bradbury as Gangsters #1 & #2, whose impressive physicality and obvious enjoyment of their roles made me love watching them perform. While it seemed the ensemble and minor characters were committed and working hard, some of the movement around the stage seemed clunky, and didn’t have the effortless-ness called for by the style of the show. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but only a few of the numbers—namely “Cold Feet” and “Show Off”—really shone, and I don’t think it was for lack of talent onstage.
The set seemed a little too cluttered, and many of the props onstage weren’t functional or helpful to the show; however, the many levels created by countertops and built-in bookcases lent themselves to lovely sight-lines and stage pictures. . Kevin Michael Cripps’ music direction and conducting was beyond reproach and a joy to listen to and experience. The lighting—somewhat “controlled” by the Man when he would stop and start the record—was often abrupt and distracting, but perhaps that was the point: it brought me out of the world of the musical and into the world of the Man.
The Drowsy Chaperone is silly, and I don’t think anyone is trying to deny that. It’s the kind of theatre that makes you sit back, relax, and giggle; you really don’t have to think about it too much. Therein lies its blessing and curse: I had a rollicking escape to the roaring twenties for an evening,
but I’m not sure I’ll remember it.
Photo: Tim Matheson