If there’s any indication just how successful the Victoria Theatre Guild’s production of powerhouse Canadian musical The Drowsy Chaperone would be, the fact that its run was extended before curtain on opening night might just be it.
Langham Court Theatre was filled with lighthearted laughter Thursday night as Drowsy, which began its life as a bachelor party skit before runs on Broadway and London’s West End, made its premiere on Vancouver Island to an appreciative audience of musical theatre lovers.
The Drowsy Chaperone is as much a tribute to as it is a spoof of musical theatre — an ode to a beloved art form written by the very artists who love to perform it. (Its first incarnation was as a wedding gift to romantic leads Robert Martin and Janet van der Graaff. It was subsequently developed further to run at the Toronto Fringe before garnering 13 Tony nominations, winning five.)
Stereotypes and lame jokes abound, but all are in the best of tastes with The Drowsy Chaperone, which has dancing monkeys and culminates with a Miss Saigon-esque feat of epic aviation— especially on Langham’s relatively tiny stage.
With direction by Langham regular Roger Carr and choreography of Olympic proportions by CCPA co-founder Jacques Lemay, Langham’s cast and crew pull off a proud and pleasing 90 minutes, making the cramped quarters feel spacious in cramped quarters.
Set designer Bill Adams proves he is a man of imagination with this set, which remarkably appeared to be unremarkable, that is until the double door refrigerator opens and a musical pours out.
The fourth wall comes down immediately as the audience is introduced to a lone man in his apartment, the aptly named Man in Chair (The lovable Kyle Kushnir). Sitting in his favourite wingback, Man in Chair whisks us off to another world of music and glamour as he listens to a vinyl recording of his favourite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone.
Man in Chair is the audience’s guide throughout the duration of the play-within-a play, offering context, opinion and a giggle for every punchline, however lame they can be at times.
Kushnir’s flamboyant spirit and endearing laughter captures the audience’s imagination at once, bringing them along for a wonderfully entertaining escape from the dreary days of the real world.
As the overture comes to an end, his apartment is filled with the character and decadence of the 1920s with the grand opening number.
And the action never stops. Dylan and Cameron Northover turn cold feet into bold feet with their tap duet, Sue Wilkey shows honest excitement and confusion as Mrs. Tottendale, and Karen Lee Pickett is a hoochie hitched on hootch as the Drowsy Chaperone. Alf Small is hilarious as Latin lover Aldolpho, Stephanie Sartore reaches new heights as Trix the Aviatrix and Lindsay Robinson and Jeffery Stephen are as sweet as a Toledo Surprise as Gangster 1 and 2.
Donna Williams pulls off both recorded and live music (with three musicians on stage the whole show), and although it wasn’t perfect and at times pitchy, the vocal stand out was the young Alison Roberts as Janet Van De Graaff who literally jumps through hoops (and charms a snake) while belting out her swan song to a life of glitz and glamour.
As we stumble along, the audience is pulled from one world to another with quips about the genre and those who love it. The Drowsy Chaperone is musical theatre for musical theatre lovers, but even those who aren’t total addicts will be thoroughly entertained. And don’t worry, because everything always works out in the end. It’s a musical after all, and a fun one at that. M