- Photo courtesy of Friedman Wagner-Dobler
- Rob James and Becki Toth in Stage 62's The Drowsy Chaperone
The origins and plot of the 2006 Broadway musical The Drowsy Chaperone are, even for a musical, unusual.
When Canadian actor/writer Bob Martin married actress Janet van de Graaf, in 1997, their friends — as a wedding gift — wrote a parody of 1920s musical comedies called The Drowsy Chaperone. Don McKellar fashioned the book, while Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison wrote the songs and the "plot," about a Broadway star named Janet Van De Graaff giving up show business and marrying her true love, Robert Martin.
A reworked version opened at the Toronto Fringe; Martin added a character named "Man in Chair": the ultimate musical-theater freak, alone in his apartment listening to old cast recordings, whom we join as he's playing The Drowsy Chaperone. He imagines the long-ago original production, which magically appears in his room, with him providing narration and commentary. It's really a non-stop stream of theater jokes in 90 intermissionless minutes.
Stage 62, under Stephen Santa's direction, presents a solid, beautifully sung new production with some knock-out moments, including Becki Toth's monumental performance of "As We Stumble Along." Laura Barletta stops the show with "Show Off," and Chad Elder is exactly precise as the Best Man. George Heigel, Rob James and Natalie Hatcher provide big fun and big, big voices. Special mention to musical director Erich Lascek and the live orchestra.
Mark Yochum is Man in Chair and, as he proves here, there are few people who know how to sell a joke better. Unfortunately, because of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library Music Hall's acoustics and sound system, Yochum is forced to push a bit harder than he normally would, and some of his sly humor gets lost. And that goes for a lot of this production. Comedy, especially parody, needs to be sharp and controlled; to fill the space and overcome sound issues, Santa occasionally permits some broad and hazy performance choices. But only sometimes, and never when it really matters.
There's got to be a reward for years spent locked in my room with cast albums, and Stage 62's Drowsy Chaperone is it.