Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Starring Bob Martin, Georgia Engel and Nancy Opel
at the Elgin Theatre until October 14 or 416-644-3665

Reviewed by Joel Greenberg

The Drowsy Chaperone is as near-mythic in theatre circles as it is legendary for Man in Chair, the musicalís central character. The sunny little musical that started life as a pre-wedding celebration and moved up to two Toronto productions after a sold run at The Fringe, took Broadway sort of by storm a couple of seasons back. And now, running until October 14, it is back here in Toronto.

The show has vastly changed from its Toronto incarnations, but the spirit of gentle mockery continues to dominate. The new score may be an improvement on the original, but the nature of pastiche, as laid out by composer-lyricists Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, makes their contribution more backdrop than centre-piece. The jokes are clearly spelled and sung out, but the flavour disappears before the final chord of each tune is played. The book, by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, is a shopping list of predictable lines and well-timed set-ups.

The unique feature of The Drowsy Chaperone, and almost certainly what raised it to its Tony Award-winning height, is the creation and performance of the role, Man in Chair. Martin, co-writer of the book and the actor who has played this character for much of the life of the project itself, whines, laments and salivates from start to finish. His shut-in of a musical theatre queen is always endearing and almost always hilarious. Martinís throwaway is self-assured and never smug, a rare combination. His personal charm and warmth draw us close to him, which in the Elgin Theatre is no easy feat. And he frolics through many of the musical numbers, allowing his dreams to lead him where they may.

The rest of the cast is strong on all counts, but as the 100 intermissionless minutes flew and then ticked by, it seemed as though the many skills onstage were not put to their full advantage. The Drowsy Chaperone is Man in Chair, and though he needs the ensemble to illustrate to us what he adores in the world of 1920ís musical comedy, we begin to feel that he is probably all we need.

This musical, the start of a national tour (that is a U.S. tour) is the first of many more touring shows being brought to Toronto by Dancap Productions. A programme note adds that Dancap is committed to developing and showcasing Canadian talent and not just American touring franchises. The Drowsy Chaperone does indeed pay tribute to a team of Canadian writers who could not have imagined what would evolve from the backroom of a Queen West bar. I am eager to follow Dancapís continuing pursuit of Canadian artists in the commercial theatre world.

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