2 min

Musically fanatical

The Drowsy chaperone keeps you wide awake

GUM-POPPING CHORINE. Jennifer Irwin in the Drowsy Chaperone. Credit: Xtra files

As a dazzling example of 21st-century musical hall, the new commercial-sized version of The Drowsy Chaperone is a perfect fit with The Winter Garden stage.

The home-grown musical is a delightful combination of high camp and low shtick that often leaves you breathless with laughter.

The camp? The second act opener is a misplaced scene from a King And I-type musical, replete with bad accents and a plucky western heroine. The shtick? See the picture of the Gangsters in any recent ad for the show, with Jonathan Crombie sitting on the face of Cliff Saunders.

Song after song – there’s 16 of them – lyricist Lisa Lambert (who doubles as the world-weary Chaperone) and composer Greg Morrison exhibit inventiveness and verve. Standout numbers are “I Remember Love,” an oddly touching duet between the dotty Mrs Tottendale (Judy Marshak) and Underling, her butler (Ed Sahely), “Bride’s Lament,” the ludicrous love ditty about a monkey by the starlet Janet van de Graaff (Karen Hines) – both songs recent additions – and the Chaperone’s wordy showstopper “Overrated World.”

The musically fanatical narrator, Man In Chair (Bob Martin), has never been gayer. As he walks the audience through the show’s petty intrigues, the mistaken identity plot twists and the “real life” failings of the cast, the Man’s yearnings and insecurities infuse the production with real heart.

When the dashing leading man roller-skates right up to him, the Man swoons – as does the audience. It’s a moment of real tenderness; there are many real moments like this and they are crucial to the success of such a post-modern construction. The narrator’s running commentary is a perfectly contemporary foil to the expectations – both good and bad – that modern audiences have of musicals. The book by Don McKellar and Bob Martin is consistently smart without ever sacrificing entertainment.

Christopher Richards’ flapper-era costumes are delightful confections, and they just keep coming. Too bad John Thompson’s set only adds to the pizzazz during the last number. But the plain seven-door set-up does allow for efficient slapstick.

Director Daniel Brooks has found a strong balance among the musical’s disparate elements and keeps everything moving along at a good clip.

Now, I have to come clean. I’ve got conflicts of interest up the whazoo on this production. But you don’t have to take my word on it. Richard Ouzounian hated Drowsy, so it’s got to be good.

The Mirvish production of The Drowsy Chaperone is scheduled to run to Sat, Jul 28 at The Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge St). Tix cost $40 to $99; call (416) 872-1212.