‘I just want a story, and a few good songs that will take me away. I just want to be entertained. I mean, isn’t that the point?’ The Just So’s fall production of The Drowsy Chaperone opened with an off-stage voice praying for a good show. I prayed too.
The Man in Chair – the comic narrator, played by Elliot Douglas – invited the audience to join him in listening to his favourite 1920’s show, a musical which contains all the must-have musical tropes: unexpected love, an eclectic group of characters and a happy ending. While the unconventional format of the musical must have been some trouble to stage in the short span of 6 weeks, the director Kate Kitchens should be complimented for her acute management of the narrator-company transitions. It was Douglas’ brilliant comic timing, however, that imbued the chaotic performance with a continuous energy – an element that was at times lacked by other members of cast.
One of the most apparent strengths of the show was the great casting of supporting characters. The larger-than-life stage presence as well as the quality of singing and acting of the Chaperone (Stephanie Boyle), Aldolpho (Connor Powell) and the gangsters (Will Costello & Adam Zinkin) provided enough energy for the show to keep moving forward. ‘Toledo Surprise’ was indeed a pleasant surprise, showing off the talent of Will Costello and Adam Zinki. The two gangsters had the audience in stitches. With the great characterisation of Feldzieg, played by Joe Tantillo, and the astonishing musical performance of Christopher Miller, the show turned out to be filled with surprises that surpassed my expectations. Last but not least, the strength of supporting roles was evident in the brief appearance of Michael Grieve, who after performing for less than a minute received a near-standing ovation, testifying to the actor’s undeniable talent for comedy.
Why am I so hung up on the supporting roles? I found the leads underwhelming. The hot shot character of Janet Van de Graaff had big shoes to be filled and while Emma Seckel carried out a great performance of the role in the ‘Show Off’ number, it seemed like her big solo could have been a bit … bigger. I am not suggesting that the actress should have done another high kick – if anything, the choreography could have been toned down; at times Seckel did not seem to be 100% comfortable with the tricks she had to perform while belting out a vocally demanding song. I just feel that her performance was not pushed for higher energy and more eccentric characterisation by Kitchens like the rest of her co-stars. Similarly, the performance by Matthew Colley as Robert Martin consistently dropped the energy of the show (although I am still impressed with his roller skating ability).
I thought that my decision to go see The Drowsy Chaperone on its final night of showing would have given me the luxury to focus purely on the performances. However, the minor technical problems, that are usually the curse of opening nights, were at times too evident to be overlooked. Trix’s solo, played by the talented Ruth Kroch, was completely washed out by the rest of the cast purely because of misbalanced sound levels and crackling microphones. While sound mixing might also have affected the tucked-away music band (why were they tucked away? It is a jazz musical!), the general groove of the instrumental ensemble greatly contributed to the show’s fast pace, providing it with continuity and animation.
I thought the overall product was very entertaining, as the audience evidently agreed – our genuine laughter was a testimony to the cast’s great comic timing and well carried out roles. By the end the narrator’s prayer was answered – it was certainly an entertaining night with some good songs that took us away.