One Drowsy Dame and a Whole Lotta Nostalgia!!

BLOC’s performance of The Drowsy Chaperone is a fun frolic, infused with social commentary.

Gareth Grainger as Man in Chair. Photo credit: Matthew Heenan

Gareth Grainger as Man in Chair.
Photo credit: Matthew Heenan

From the very beginning of this funny, engaging show, a world-weary gentleman known as Man in Chair, (played brilliantly by Gareth Grainger) lets us know that we’re in for a night of escapism. At first we can’t even see this eccentric chap; the stage is cast in darkness as he recounts the prayer he puts up before each and every musical he sees – a prayer asking God for a good, short show; a show where the actors stay out of the audience. ‘I just want a story and a few good songs that will take me away. I just want to be entertained.’ Henceforth, we know what we’re in for – a night of pure fun, laughs and a good dose of silliness – albeit balanced out by the commentary of Man in Chair, a hard-core musical fan, obsessed with the 1928 musical The Drowsy Chaperone; a man eager to be swept up and away from the disappointment and blandness of real modern life.

The set is a major star of the show in itself – a detailed illustration of this man’s fastidious, old school tastes, confined to his small flat. Then, before our eyes, his oft-played old record transforms both his mood and the stage before us into a flashy Broadway extravaganza. The show-within-the-show, The Drowsy Chaperone, is a lark about ‘mix-ups, mayhem and a gay wedding’ (‘Of course, the phrase “gay wedding” has a different meaning now, but back then it just meant fun,’ Man in Chair explains). The Drowsy Chaperone doesn’t always dazzle on its own, but the endlessly amusing footnotes of Man in Chair make it one hilarious ride.

Beth McKee as Kitty. Photo credit: Matthew Heenan

Beth McKee as Kitty.
Photo credit: Matthew Heenan

The audience roared with laughter at times, and were absolutely delighted whenever Man in Chair, (wine in hand) joined in with the cast conjured up in his mind, to sing and dance along. This fan of show tunes isn’t blind to the shortcomings of the musical, (in fact, he revels in wry observations about its flaws) but it doesn’t make him adore it any less.

Man in Chair is one of the funniest, most captivating characters I’ve ever seen portrayed on stage, and Grainger was born to play him.

Maxine Montgomery also displays star power, in the show-within-the-show as the titular character, the chaperone who feels a bit, ahem, ‘drowsy’ after a few too many prohibition-era martinis. Montgomery’s strong voice and confident, graceful movement sweeps the stage with elegant, drunken aplomb. She lounges about in flamboyant costumes, passing out whenever she’s had enough of listening to the whining of her charge, young starlet and soon-to-be-wed Janet Van De Graaff (Sarah Wood).

Wood performs the most memorable tune in the show, ‘Show Off’, which aptly displays her talents, stage presence and singing voice; she was suitably cast in the role of an attention-seeking showgirl.

Beth McKee also shone as Kitty, the ditzy showgirl waiting for her turn in the limelight.

The principal cast and the ensemble were all confident and capable in their delivery, once again showing that a BLOC performance is always a quality performance – a local theatre company to be proud of.

The lighting enhanced the mood, helping the audience to be swept away to a magical world, along with Man in Chair. The sound was good overall, although there were a couple of moments throughout where the singing was either too loud or the dialogue too soft.

Keegan Plumridge as Robert and Aaron Bonell-Huy as George. Photo credit: Matthew Heenan

Keegan Plumridge as Robert and Aaron Bonell-Huy as George.
Photo credit: Matthew Heenan

The choreography was relatively simple, with some fantastic tap dancing from Janet’s betrothed, Robert (Keegan Plumridge) and George (Aaron Bonell-Huy) thrown in to crank it up a notch.

Musical direction and stage management were both seamless, especially considering Man in Chair’s abrupt, and at times, repetitive interruptions of the show. There were one or two unforgettable moments when the stars (ie. lighting, sound, actors and music) aligned to make for hilarious, highly original musical theatre. The timing (including comic timing) of the actors and all involved was impeccable.

The Drowsy Chaperone won five Tony awards, including Best Book and Best Original Score. I knew very little about this show before going to see it, and was grateful to discover a gem of a musical. It’s mostly frivolous, yet it has its intelligent, almost dark side. I, for one, appreciated this nuanced contrast.

The Drowsy Chaperone continues at the 1870 Founders Theatre continues until Sunday November 6th, with performances at 8pm on Saturday November 5th, and 2pm on Sunday November 6th. Tickets are available from www.blocmusictheatre.com

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