Raucous, high-energy ‘Chaperone’ anything but drowsy
The Drowsy Chaperone, the happiest accidental success in Canadian theatre history, tore a whirlwind path from stag-party goof to Tony Award-winning Broadway smash. Now, seven dizzying years after making its debut at the Toronto Fringe Festival, Chaperone finally tap-dances its way onto a Vancouver stage in the show’s first-ever independent production.
Easily one of the highlights of the city’s theatre year, Chaperone is a loving send-up and celebration of musicals from days gone by. Fashioned as a play-within-a-play, it’s narrated by Man in Chair (a show-stealing Jay Brazeau, equally hilarious and touching), a Broadway aficionado suffering from unspecified sadness. Putting on a cast recording, he’s transported from his drab New York apartment into the world of his all-time favourite trifle, The Drowsy Chaperone, a typical 1920s -style romantic comedy chock full of mistaken identities and silly twists. The plot, such as it is, revolves around getting a glamourous stage star (Debbie Timuss) to the altar, all under the neglectful, gin-soaked eye of her chaperone (Gabrielle Jones).
Cast perfectly, there are a few performers — and numbers — worth highlighting. Timuss is charmingly funny as the woman caught between her addiction to fame and her desire to be with the man of her dreams (particularly during the sidesplitting “The Bride’s Lament”). Jones is great as the boozy chaperone who lives entirely in her own world, as demonstrated in her passionate number “As We Stumble Along.” In fact, almost every song offers a pleasant surprise, from the tap-dance between the groom-to-be and the best man during “Cold Feet,” to the irreverent “Message from a Nightingale,” a mocking admission of Broadway’s racist past.
Chaperone’s only notable fault is that, occasionally, words sung in the lower registers get lost, whether overpowered by the onstage band or through strange blocking, where an actor is momentarily singing with his/her back to the audience. This snag only stands out because the rest of the production, from choreography to costuming, is so damn good.
It may have taken seven years, but The Drowsy Chaperone was well worth the wait.