Have you ever heard of the show The Drowsy Chaperone? I hadn’t, but thanks to the students at Lakefield College School, this could be one of my new favourite musicals!
Under the direction of Geoff and Rachel Bemrose, this talented young company recreates the zaniness of 1920s Broadway in one of the cleverest musicals I’ve ever seen. Filled with high energy music and dancing, colourful characters and genuine laughs, this show came out of nowhere, but it’s made such a huge impression on me that I can be bold enough to say it’s one of the top shows I’ve seen in the Kawarthas this year.
Even more astonishing is that this show is open to the public with free performances nightly from November 22nd to 25th.
Despite its success on both Broadway and the London West End, The Drowsy Chaperone has its roots in Toronto, with a unique history. When Toronto-based actors Robert Martin and Janet Van De Graff were to be wed, their friends Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison, Bob Martin and Dan McKellar created The Drowsy Chaperone as a wedding present. The show was intended to spoof their relationship and was first performed at a stag party in 1997. Realizing they had something special, the show was rewritten and submitted for the Toronto Fringe Festival.
A huge success, the show caught the eye of David Mirvish who booked The Drowsy Chaperone at The Theater Passe Muraille in 1999 before moving it to The Winter Garden Theater in 2001. There, the show was seen by visiting New York producers and eventually the show opened on Broadway in 2006 where it won five Tony Awards. Since then, productions of The Drowsy Chaperone have opened in London, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Melbourne. And now in Lakefield!
The premise of The Drowsy Chaperone is complex one, with many different walls of reality being broken. The show begins in the home of a lonely and mild-mannered Broadway aficionado known only as The Man in the Chair (Braeson Agar). He engages in conversation with the audience about his love for old-time musicals and wants to share a recording of a forgotten 1928 musical called “The Drowsy Chaperone”.
Putting a vinyl record on his turntable, the man drops the needle and his living room becomes the stage for the show. While the audience is listening to the record, the performance of The Drowsy Chaperone unfolds before our eyes. However, at certain moments, the Man in the Chair pauses the record (as well as the performance) to give the audience historical background, gossip, and observations about the actors and the production that the audience is watching. Got it? If you don’t, it will make sense when you see it … and it’s very clever.
The Drowsy Chaperone tells the story of the wedding day of Robert Martin (Kristian Paschalis) to Broadway diva Janet Van De Craff (Madison Sheward), who plans on giving up her acting career for a man she barely knows. With the house brimming with reporters and maids getting ready for the wedding, Robert’s best man George (Liam Kaller) enlists the help of Janet’s alcoholic “Chaperone” (Josie Carr-Harris) to make sure that the groom doesn’t see the bride before the wedding.
Meanwhile, Janet’s producer Feldzieg (Richard Xia) is out to stop the wedding so that he doesn’t lose his leading star. With two gangsters disguised as pastry chefs (Matthew Lovick and Noah Storey) and Feldzieg’s dippy girlfriend Kitty (LJ Simmons) breathing down his neck, Feldzieg enlists the help of Latin lover Aldolpho (Noah Tompkins) to sabotage the wedding.
With all these zany characters together in a massive musical mashup, you get all the hijinks of comedy theatre in a clever spoof of Ziegfeld-era Broadway.
I don’t know if I can find the words to express just how talented the cast and company of The Drowsy Chaperone is. For starters, you have Geoff and Rachel Bemrose at the helm of this show and, when it comes to the Bemroses, you know you are going to get excellence time and time again. What they’ve done is assembled a group of kids who are true triple threats — they can act, they can dance, and they can sing.
I have no problem in saying that the dance numbers in The Drowsy Chaperone are the best I’ve seen on stage in 2016. The large-scale dance numbers featuring the entire company (“Fancy Dress” and “Toledo Surprise”) are professional quality. However, the most surprising dance performance of the show goes to Kristian Paschalis and Liam Kaller for their tap performance in “Cold Feets”.
Equally good are the musical performances, with each cast member delivering perfect performances without missing a note.
Musical highlights includes Madison Sheward’s decent into madness in “Bride’s Lament” (I loved the dancing monkeys), Noah Tompkin’s hilarious over-the-top performance of “I Am Adolpho” (think Ricardo Montalban meets Bela Lugosi, with maybe just a hint of Liberace) and, especially, Josie Carr-Harris’ performance of “As We Stumble Along”.
With the power of Edith Piaf and the flare of Shirley Bassey, Josie gives a hilariously stumbling performance as an old Broadway diva who has seen her day, as the Man in the Chair watches with admiration.
The entire number is charming.
I also want to give a special shout out to Ben Dunk and Kenzie McCallum as Mrs. Tottndale and Underling. Bringing slapstick vaudeville to the stage, the pair is a little out of place in the show, but that seems to be the point. But they are quite charming together, and Ben’s ability to keep a straight face as Kenzie spits water in his face is remarkable. Just watching these two come out on stage together was enough to get an uncontrollable giggle out of me.
But at the centre of this production is Braeson Agar as The Man in the Chair. Rarely leaving the stage, his juxtaposition of warmth and cynicism is wonderful and he manages to take himself in and out of the production, becoming the centre of attention and the quickly fading into the background again. His quips, observations, and gossip keep the show going, but he also often gives uncomfortable glimpses in his own lonely life. It’s a remarkable performance by a wonderful young actor.
VIDEO: Lakefield College School presents The Drowsy Chaperone
With 2016 quickly coming to a close, I feel safe saying that The Drowsy Chaperone could be the best musical I saw this year. The show is just that good and the cast is just that amazing. It’s difficult to give this show enough praise. I laughed until my ribs hurt, was drawn into the multiple levels of storytelling, and was seduced by the amazing 1920s-style costumes designed by Mary Parulski (I honestly wish people still dressed like that on a regular basis).
But most of all, I fell in love with this cast. Their energy, enthusiasm, and professionalism are inspirational. So much talent in one production is uncanny and needs to be seen to be believed. And, with free admission to the show, there’s no excuse not to see a show that I consider to be among the best of 2016.
The Drowsy Chaperone runs from November 22nd to 25th at Lakefield College School in the Bryan Jones Theare. Performance starts at 7:30 pm and admission is free (donations will be accepted at the door for Lakefield College School’s Movember team).