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Theatre Review: "The Drowsy Chaperone" at the National Arts Centre

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The musical THE DROWSY CHAPERONE has opened the season for the English Theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa running through October 31. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

Transcript: Connie Meng, 10/20/09

Hurry and get tickets for the splendidly silly musical THE DROWSY CHAPERONE that's quickly selling out at the NAC.   This Canadian musical with book by Bob Martin and Don McKeller and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison began as a unique wedding present in 1998.  It ended up on Broadway in 2006 and won five Tony awards including best book and best score.  This tribute to screwball musicals of the 1920s begins with an elderly theatre geek sitting in his apartment rhapsodizing about his favorite classic musical, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE.  As he plays the record of the show, the show within a show comes alive.

The scrim rises to reveal an elegant set designed by Jean Claude Olivier, complete with a polished floor, ornate white walls and doors and the summer tuxedo clad band visible in a gingerbread-trimmed gazebo upstage. The bright and cheery lighting is designed by Gerald King.  The sound design by Lucas Cooper and Owen Hutchinson is first rate.

Phillip Clarkson's costumes are simply splendid.  His changes for Janet, well played by triple-threat Debbie Timuss, are especially good.  I really coveted the Chaperone's elegant white gown, but I would probably trip on the train.

Music Director Lloyd Nicholson has done a fine job with the vocal music and the terrific seven-piece band.  We get every word of the clever lyrics, and Conductor Scott Davey keeps the tempos right on target.

The entire cast is strong, but so large I can't mention everyone.  Josh Epstein and Neal Minor have great fun as two gangsters disguised as cooks, as does Nathalie Marrable as the feather-brained chorine, Kitty.  Nora McLellan as a befuddled dowager and Julien Arnold as her butler Underling are terrific in both their duet and their spit takes - shades of vaudeville!

As Adolpho, the slippery Latin lover, Thom Allison is perilously close to an over-the-top characterization and makes great use of his cape.  His duet with the Chaperone, elegantly played and sung by Susan Gilmour, is hilarious.

Jay Brazeau is just perfect as Man in Chair.  He has a wonderful air of child-like enthusiasm in his sincere delight in old musicals.  His moments of irascibility, such as during the very funny power failure, are perfect.

Stratford veteran Dayna Tekatch has done a terrific job with the choreography, especially on "Cold Feets," "Show Off," "Toledo Surprise," and - I wrote down "great choreography" six times.

Director Max Reimer has directed and staged the show with a sure hand.  Without losing any of the humor, he makes us believe in these frivolous characters and thus in the poignant ending.

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, with its truncated number "Message from a Nightingale" followed by a number even sillier, is a tribute to the enduring joy of musical theatre.  To quote Noel Coward, musical theatre is "gaily irrational to the point of lunacy."  The best way to enjoy this very smart and very funny musical is to relax and enjoy the flight.

On a scale of one to five the NAC English Theatre/Citadel Theatre (Edmonton) co-production of the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company production of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE gets five Royal Canadian Mounted Police, horses and all.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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