Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review: (Ottawa) The Drowsy Chaperone

A Man with his Music
by Jim Murchison

As the play begins we see a very large unfurnished foyer, with a chair and a record player tucked downstage right representing an apartment, a kitchen with a large refrigerator up centre and a door downstage left. A neat little element in Christy Bindhardt's design is the way actors can be tucked away into the wall while lying in bed so the action is undisturbed. 
The Drowsy Chaperone is a one man play about a man who finds solace in his thoughts and his music. What sets this one man show apart from others is the 24 actors and the 12-piece orchestra that play in his imagination. Many one man shows would benefit from this approach.

Of course there are forces out there trying to keep the wedding from happening. 

Wayne Nolan is totally charming as Man in Chair. He narrates the action and interjects his comments on life and musical theatre while the cast of the play tumble out of the fridge and introduce themselves to the audience. While the play is a parody, it possesses a certain, almost reverential love of the kitsch of the 1920's musical. 
Andréa Black as Janet Van De Graaff and Kodi Cannon as Robert Martin are star crossed lovers. Janet is a movie star and Robert an oil tycoon. Black gets to perform a faux modest little number about her disdain for the spotlight and Cannon gets to do some tap with his best man George played with an energetic niceness by Darren Bird.
Of course there are forces out there trying to keep the wedding from happening. Fieldzig, the producer played with a fervent angst by Sam Smith does not want to see his meal ticket retire and he is under additional pressure by a couple of half baked gangsters played in broad caricature by Andrew Galligan and Bryan Jesmer.
The title character played by Lesley Osborne is often a little more than drowsy. She's completely tanked and of course gets a musical number to demonstrate it. Dennis van Staalduinen is a definite crowd favourite as  the delightfully over the top latin lothario Adolpho. Jim Robertson as Underling the Butler and Christine Drew as Mrs Tottendale, the hostess get to do a little vaudevillian slapstick front of curtain to help the scene changes move along.
Artistic director Michael Gareau has coordinated the elements very well. There are some very difficult timing issues when you have to coordinate interruptions, skips in a record and replayed sections of a record while actually doing it with live performers. Of course a lot of the credit for this working has to do with communication of the creative team especially the musical direction of John McGovern coordinated with Debbie Millett's fine choreography. 
This will be a shock to some, but not everyone likes musical theatre. The main job of musical theatre in the 20s was escapism and fun. Bob Martin and Don McKellar's book has captured that spirit and the music and lyrics of Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison are in the same vein moving the story along. As witnessed by last night's ovation this production definitely appeals to those who love musicals and just may win over a few converts as well. As usual, hard work and dedication has paid off for Orpheus.
runtime: approximately 2 hours 25 minutes with one intermission
The Drowsy Chaperone runs until March 17

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