The costumes are outlandish, the cast even more so — welcome to the 1920s and the case of The Drowsy Chaperone. It’s about the corniest thing you’ll ever likely experience — which means, in this case, that it worked well.
And speaking about cases — this is the era of Prohibition, which doesn’t stop the chaperone (played by DeAnn deGruijter) from having a bit too much. Thus, the title could have been The Tipsy Chaperone — but wasn’t.
Imagine if you will the interior of the theatre plunged into darkness. Anticipation as the play is about to start. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a voice bellows, “I hate theatre!” This will give you a good idea of what you’re in for.
This darkened monologue continues with The Narrator’s voice ranting about the vices of the theatre. As the lights slowly come on, we see a heavy-set bearded man sitting in a chair (man-in- chair played by Dean Paul Gibson) talking about the musical in a very gay voice (which, in the 1920s did not mean the same as today’s pejorative — which really doesn’t matter as both connotations work — to great comedic effect.) He then puts a “record” on a “record player” (google it if you have any questions). The record is — what else — The Drowsy Chaperone.
Moving through a series of the corniest jokes you’ll ever hear, this comic farce brings the musical of the 1920s back to life — completely disrespecting it in the process. Lyrics are insidious although not pornographic (although man-in-chair does make a comparison between 1920s musicals and porn). The filler between major scenes, a common theatrical device of at least that era, is slandered.
Not all the major scenes make sense, as is amply demonstrated in the “anthems” sung by the drowsy chaperone when the heroine (who must be on some kind of drug), Kitty (Diana Coatsworth) asks advice as to whether she should marry the handsome, debonair Robert Martin (Kyle Blair). What a set of lungs on her! This pattern of irrelevancy is highlighted during Kitty, the bride’s, song “Accident Waiting to Happen,” during which she sings, in exquisite fashion, of monkeys. Don’t ask.
Then there are the two gangsters — indeed, a 1920s musical is not complete without at least one. Eric S. Robertson and Julius Sermonia are exceptionally talented singers and dancers with superb comic timing.
And what would a 1920s musical be without a tap dance number as performed by groom Robert Martin and best man George (Timothy Gledhill). These two are not the Hines brothers, although they do an adequate job.
Then there is Kitty’s mother, Mrs. Tottendale (Debbie Maslowsky) who has a butler named Underling (Patrick R. Brown) whom she ends up marrying. She is entrusted to sing “Love is Always Lovely” (rather cheesy, yes) with the words “in the end” appended to this refrain. This extension is duly noted by man-in-chair who points out that this is nothing but “gay slander,” demanding that the song be excised from the show.
Finally, there is the archetypal Latin Lothario, Aldolpho, who, throughout the play, keeps repeating his name with great and unnecessary flourish, arms spreading out like the wings of some giant bird — Aldolpho — and who makes love to the wrong person — the drowsy chaperone, rather than Kitty, creating a second marriage, rather than demolishing the first, as the impresario, Feldzeig (Douglas E. Hughes) hoped would happen to save him from the gangsters’ wrath.
Of course, the show could not have ended without Trix the Aviatrix (Nadine Oden).
If this review has assisted in removing confusion then you’re way ahead of the audience and should probably join them for a fun evening at the Manitoba Theatre Centre.
The Drowsy Chaperone runs until Jan. 30 at the John Hirsch Mainstage at the MTC.