The MacEwan University musical theatre students present one of the strongest, most charming contemporary productions of the season.
The Drowsy Chaperone is a delightful, breezy spoof of 1920s musicals chock-full of colourful characters with larger-than-life personalities, snappy danceable songs and quick-witted word play that lampoon the genre.
This fizzy musical first hit the stage in 1998 with book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.
Director Kate Ryan has basically recreated a delightful exercise in escapism adorned with just enough pop culture references that you feel you’re in the loop.
Hosting the inspired narrative framework is a captivating performance by a reclusive musical theatre fan known simply as Man in the Chair (Malachi Wilkins).
The first few minutes of the show takes place in total darkness. Only the Man’s raspy, somewhat apprehensive voice floats towards the audience.
As the lights flicker on, the audience sees him hunkered down in a dreary apartment trying to cheer himself up by talking about the musicals from the Gershwin and Porter era. He turns on his turntable and places a vinyl record of the fictitious 1928 musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, on a turntable.
As the notes play, first the musical comes to life in his mind and in a quick burst of colour, the characters appear on stage singing and dancing.
There’s the rich, scatter-brained Mrs. Tottendale (Rachel Ironmonger), where the action takes place, and her uncomplaining butler (Ethan Snow).
However, the musical’s plot pivots around Janet Van De Graff (Rachel Matichuk), a showbiz star about to retire to marry a man she barely knows.
Her producer, Feldzieg (Benjamin Oomen) tries to change her mind, mostly at the urgings of two gangsters (Manuela Aguerrevere and Paola Correa) disguised as pastry chefs.
The wealthy fiancĂ© with matinee good looks, Robert Martin (Gabriel Gagnon), is completely in love with Janet but after a classic misunderstanding lands in the doghouse.
Add to the platter a nervous best man George (Andrew Cormier) a low-action Latin lover (Dylan Kroening) and an inebriated Drowsy Chaperone (Jameela McNeil), an actress with the style of a young Josephine Baker and the slapstick comedic chops of still younger Lucille Ball, and the zaniness spikes rapidly.
There is great strength in the multiple cast roles; however the one character that keeps the show bouncing is the ultra-charming Man in the Chair.
Malachi Wilkins, with a sardonic humour, a twinkle in his eye and stooped shoulders quickly and easily draws us into the Man in the Chair’s confidence.
We learn snippets about his past – a narcissistic mother and an ill-advised marriage – and come to sympathize with his self-imposed isolation.
Wilkins plays the ultimate host – informative without being boring, humorous without being offensive and completely disarming without being overly agreeable.
Although still a young actor on the theatre scene, Wilkins’ comic timing is impeccable and he inhabits the skin of the older man so flawlessly it is easy to forget he was merely a student.
A Drowsy Chaperone ends cheerfully with a plane trip to Rio, a somewhat predictable conclusion. But in an understated way it warms the day, and celebrates the important role fans play in keeping musical theatre alive.
The Drowsy Chaperone
MacEwan Musical Theatre Production
Runs to Dec. 3
John L. Haar Theatre
Centre for the Arts and Communications
10045 – 156 St.
Tickets: Call 780-420-1757 or tixonthesquare.ca