It’s 1927, opening night of smash-hit musical The Drowsy Chaperone at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway, starring some of the era’s biggest talents of musical theatre and Vaudeville. The humourous tale of the almost thwarted marriage of stage star Janet Van De Graaff and Robert Martin, this show has it all: singing gangsters, a squeaky-voiced chorine, an aviatrix, a ukulele solo and unforgettable numbers like “Hey, Sourpuss,” “Accident Waiting To Happen” and “Cold Feets.”
If it’s not ringing a bell, don’t worry. The thing is, none of it’s real – The Drowsy Chaperone is the brainchild of Lisa Lambert and her musical theatre-loving gang of friends (the geniuses behind last year’s hit Honest Ed: The Musical). Originally written as a wedding present for actor pals Janet Van De Graaff and Robert Martin (who play the characters Janet Van De Graaff and Man In Chair, respectively), the show was reprised for the Fringe festival and now has a three-week run at Theatre Passe Muraille, with direction by Sandy Balcovske and Martin and Don McKellar bolstering Lambert’s writing duties.
Half send-up, half homage – and with fabulous costumes of beads, feathers and white bucks by designer Christopher Richards – The Drowsy Chaperone is a brilliant take on the 1920s musical, a fantasy land of fops and flappers, mixed-up identities, upper class Eastern seaboard accents and, inevitably, happy endings.
Double-threat Lisa Lambert has an uncanny talent for writing period music, plus she steals the show as the Drowsy Chaperone, boozing her way through the song “(It’s An) Over-rated World (With Seven Underwhelming Wonders).”
Other stand-outs include Jonathan Crombie and Nick Johne, who play a well-mannered pair of gangsters with gum-popping, suspender-snapping glee, and Steven Morel, as Bob Martin (the character), who channels Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in all their Singing In The Rain hoofer-and-crooner glory.
The Man In Chair narrator, played by Bob Martin (the real one), a fount of musical theatre trivia, lovingly and obsessively recreates the opening night of The Drowsy Chaperone, occasionally stopping the action with commentary about the eventual fate of the original cast (one was eaten by his poodles), or a very funny, very astute riff on the appropriation of black music and idiom by white artists.
According to the play’s creators, the character owes a tip of the straw boater to über-fan Richard Ouzounian, the fey, almost creepy, musical theatre-loving, TVO personality with the Sally Jesse Raphael glasses.
As rendered by Martin, the Man In Chair is a perfect tour guide for The Drowsy Chaperone. Very loving and more than a little nutty, he’s as crazy for the show – real and imagined – as audiences will be.
The Drowsy Chaperone continues until Sun, Dec 12 at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave). Tix are $20 to $40; call (416) 872-1212.