The Drowsy Chaperone started as a wedding present, created by friends as a gift to Toronto actors Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graaff (the lead characters in the play still bear those names).
Through many other versions, it finally became a full-fledged Broadway show that won a Tony award. Now at the Sudbury Theatre Centre, it’s a perfect closer for the current season.
Director David Savoy describes The Drowsy Chaperone as a musical within a comedy: a character known only as Man In Chair decides to cheer himself up by listening to a record of his favourite musical of the late 1920’s era. As he shares his observations about the recording with the audience, the show comes to life onstage.
We see Broadway star Janet about to give up her stage career to marry handsome oil tycoon Bob. Her producer, Feldzeig, must stop the wedding or be ruined. That is, if he isn’t killed first by a couple of gangsters disguised as pastry chefs.
The rest of the guests are a colourful lot, too, and almost every one of them gets a musical number. It’s a treat to see how each member of this terrific cast shines when given the spotlight (Stephenos Christou’s “Adolpho” is a memorable example).
As with the real old-time musicals it parodies, the plot is just an excuse for episodes of mistaken identity, sudden reversal, gratuitous gags, and lots of singing and dancing (including an impressive tap dance number by the bridegroom and his best man, Michel Lafleche and Vince Staltari).
Many of the tunes are catchy, but this musical comedy is played for laughs. So a poignant song of heartache by the confused bride is turned on its head with ludicrous lyrics, another romantic piece is performed on roller skates, and there’s an inspirational anthem that has nothing to do with the plot but only the supposed contract demands of the actress in the role.
All the while, the Man In Chair is offering his enthusiastic commentary with frequent interruptions, lifting the needle on his record player and freezing the action onstage. This device provides a lot of laughs, though it risks killing the pace of the show a few times when it goes on too long.
Even so, Jonathan Wilson is thoroughly engaging in the role, and he and the rest of the cast drew a well-deserved standing ovation on opening night.
With spit takes, slapstick, sight gags, high kicks, high notes, fancy costumes and lots of belly laughs, The Drowsy Chaperone is two hours of solid fun. Don’t miss it.
The Drowsy Chaperone plays at the Sudbury Theatre Centre until May 13. Tickets Tickets are $25.50 for students, $36.25 for seniors and $41.50 for adults, and are available by phone at 705-674-8381 ext. 21 or online at sudburytheatre.on.ca.
Scott Overton is the morning show host on Rewind 103.9 and writes theatre reviews for Northern Life.
Posted by Vivian Scinto