The Drowsy Chaperone
Memorial Auditorium, Progress Energy Center—The real-life backstage story on The Drowsy Chaperone is—well, the kind of tale you'd make a screwball Broadway musical from. When Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graaff, two comedians with Toronto's Second City troupe, got married in 1999, their friends didn't just spring for toasters and monogrammed bath mats. Instead, they wrote—and performed—an original 40-minute musical, a loving send-up of all those busy, fizzy, over-the-top Broadway musical comedies of the 1920s.
By the time the show was over, Martin, Van De Graaff and composer Lisa Lambert realized they had something more than a wedding present on their hands. A revival the following summer garnered sold-out shows and rave reviews at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The summer after that, the production got superlatives at the Canadian Comedy Awards and an expanded professional version opened at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre.
Then? Nothing. For three years. What's the problem? The title: Out-of-town producers take one look at it and put the show on their must-miss list. Only a 45-minute staging during a 2004 musical theater festival in New York saved The Drowsy Chaperone from an early grave. A 2005 Los Angeles booking came out of that. Four months after closing there, it's in previews on Broadway. More than a year and a half later, its New York run ended in December 2007—after taking five Tony Awards and seven Drama Desk Awards, including Best Book, Best Score and Outstanding Musical.
A musical theater fan of a certain age pulls out a long-playing phonograph record (kids, ask your parents) of an old-time musical for a guest in his modest New York townhouse. The needle hitting the PVC is all it takes for the Man in Chair to recall the best night he ever spent in a theater—and have a full-stage 1920s Broadway spectacle, complete with jaw-dropping production numbers, take over his apartment. Critic Jackie Demaline's review for the Cincinnati Enquirer seems to sum the show up best: "A sly post-post-post-post-modern musical that winks as it asks the question 'Why can't they write 'em like they used to?'"
It's ours through Sunday.—Byron Woods
For more information and tickets, visit www.broadwayseriessouth.com.