Been a hectic little weekend here at the Visitorium, folks. Had to last-minute switch a brunch shift to a close on Saturday to accommodate a super-important audition I booked on short notice, about which more some other time. And of course, I picked goddamned Daylight Saving weekend to work a close/open, stealing a sweet, precious hour of sleep from me. And now it’s too dark in the morning, and bright out too late! Balls.
Happily, there was some actual theatre crammed into my busy last few days, in the form of a very long overdue indeed visit to the kids at the Orpheus Musical Society, whom I hadn’t bumped into since INTO THE WOODS a ways back. Ashamed of my long absence (and rightly so), I tooled out to Centrepointe Theatre for the 2nd production of their current, 3-show season, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. I’m not much of a musical theatre buff per se, so all I knew about this show was that, presumably there was a chaperone in it who at least once starts to feel a little sleepy. Armed with that knowledge, I took my seat in the cener of the lovely Centrepointe Theatre, ogled the dead cool retro Christy Bindhardt set for a few minutes, and waited for the show (music and lyrics Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, before I forget) to begin.
The lights went out, and the voice of our narrator rang out, speaking fondly of an abiding love for musical theatre and its magical ways. Soon we were introduced to the fellow, a never-named older gent referred to in the script only as ‘Man in Chair’, played here by Wayne Nolan in a charmingly frank performance. Our narrator sits alone in his apartment, shunning the telephone and listening to his dusty old records. Through him, we are introduced to his fav’rit album, a recording of an old 1930’s-era Broadway musical, The Drowsy Chaperone. And as he plays the tunes, we see the show come to life around him…a cute gimmick that works a treat. The story of this musical-within-a-play follows glamorous Janet Van de Graaf (Andrea Black), about to retire from show business to run off and marry Robert (Kodi Cannon) after a spot of love at first sight on a boat cruise. A splendid wedding is planned at the estate of dotty Mrs.Tottendale (Christine Drew) and her long-suffering Underling (Jim Robertson…and yes, ‘Underling’ is his character’s name), with Robert’s swell best man George (Darren Bird) running the show. Everything seems to be going swimmingly, except for a few potential hitches…like Janet’s glowering former producer Feldzieg (Sam Smith), trying hard to get his meal ticket to stay in showbiz, with plenty of prodding from a pair of pastry-themed gangsters (Andrew Galligan and Bryan Jesner), and chorus girl Kitty (Christine Moran) who’s out for Janet’s old job. Then there’s the mysterious aviatrix Trix (Mary Armstrong), and the titular Chaperone (Lesley Osborn) who doesn’t let a silly thing like Prohibition stop her from getting ‘drowsy’ at all hours of the day. And that’s not even MENTIONING Aldolpho (Dennis van Staalduinen)…
If it sounds like there’s lots going on in this show, just you wait…there’s actually a lot more. Thanks to our narrator pal, we’re treated to the fictional history of the fictional musical that’s really playing out before us…making it a real musical about a fictional musical…it all gets a bit meta if you think about it too long, so please don’t. What’s important is how giddily entertaining the whole affair is, and how great a job the Orpheus gang does at bringing the whole silly mess to life. As I said, I’m no scholar of musical theatre, but everything sounded great to me. Everyone will have their fav’rit songs, of course…the ‘Cold Feets’ number tickled me, with its sudden, mass tap dance routine, and I thought Mary Armstrong had a terrific set of pipes for belting out her tunes. Janet’s show-stopping ‘Show Off’ number is hilarious, and a gorgeous bit of choreography all around. And the much-anticipated song of Aldolpho, a Sleazy P.Martini lookalike of a latin lothario complete with cape, pompadour and unintelligible accent, brought the house down. And oh, there’s more.
But the whole ensemble is just impressive as Hell…even the chorus was knocking it out (and nice to see Dave Rowan of Red.Collective in there, singing and dancing away!). A special bit of love for the omnipresent Man in Chair, brought to marvelous life by Wayne Nolan, and providing the sneaky emotional heart of the whole production. Yes, the ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ musical-within-the-musical itself is a silly bit of contrived goofiness, filled with stock characters and glorious overacting, but that’s kind of the point. Musical theatre is our hero’s escape from the dreariness and letdowns of everyday life, and I’m betting there’s a lot of us out there who can identify pretty strongly with that sentiment. CHAPERONE is deftly executed by the Orpheus crew from top to bottom, turning out a seriously memorable show that’s ridiculously funny and downright addictive. Check it out, and maybe find a little escape of your own, hey? Show runs until the 17th at Centrepointe Theatre. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)