Betty White’s character on The Golden Girls, Rose Nylund, is paradoxical; she appears to be an idiot with a sunny disposition, but now and then she says something cruel, sexy or clever, and the unexpectedness of these instances makes them all the more hilarious. Now, dial her up to 10, increase her intellect and make her a lot younger, and you’ve got Chelsea Manders in Don’t Tell My Dad.
Onstage with only her costumes (she makes quick changes when the lights are low), props, guitar and heavenly singing voice, Manders is a one-woman Canadian folk musical. Through cleverly worded songs and stories, she covers topics ranging from having babies to Canada’s membership in the Commonwealth to going on a school trip to France just to have sex with a “dirty French man.”
Manders relates each story with a glowing smile and a plucky tone that contrast sharply with the key message of most of her stories: there’s a downside to everything. A little girl wants to grow up to be a princess? Here’s a story about a historical princess who had 14 children then died of plague (or, in Manders’ charming singing voice, “pla-a-ague!”). And it’s hard to forget the tale of the “sweet little existential baby” whose awareness of its own mortality prompts Manders to sing, “Sleep tight. A hostile and indifferent world waits for you.”
I’m anything but hostile and indifferent toward this show. It’s dark, hilarious and a little uncomfortable. It’s intelligent enough to amuse anyone with a few neurons firing but not so highbrow that the rest won’t get the jokes. The humour is broad enough that most ought to be able to relate but not so broad that it gets into the “here’s the difference between men and women” type of comedy crap. The singing’s divine and the dancing’s unfortunate. Oh, and Manders looks great in Spanx.