The Drowsy Chaperone - A Good Thing In Bad TimesFriday, November 28, 2008
Sometime in the mid 80s during an economic recession, Vancouver Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry decided to run a "service piece" (a thinly disguised editorial that wasn't) called Good Things In Bad Times. I was dispatched to photograph $15.00 (the price then) Cuban Montecristo cigars, an economically-priced but very good Spanish Rioja wine and a few other things.
Watching the Playhouse Theatre Company's first play of their season, Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison, Bob Martin and Don McKellar's The Drowsy Chaperone , directed by Max Reimer, and seeing my usually somber wife smile, I understood Malcolm Parry's idea about good things in bad times. In fact The Drowsy Chaperone is a very good thing for very bad times.
A few months back my wife and I enjoyed the Arts Club Theatre musical The Producers which coincidentally (with a purpose, perhaps?) also had Jay Brazeau in the cast. My friend author and Georgia Straight movie critic John Lekich pointed out that producing such a musical with a large cast and very good dancers and singers was no easy task in these times. He told me, "Whe should lap up such stuff when it happens as it doesn't very often."
Before I throw unabashed praise on The Drowsy Chaperone let me point out my pet peeves. As a Latin American born in Buenos Aires I have understood theatre, film and opera but I have never comprehended the concept of musicals where people, out of the blue, suddenly begin to sing or to dance. A cultured Mexican friend of mine is unable to handle exotic dishes that feature sweet and sour or sweet and salty. He likes to have his stuff separate. Perhaps my 35 residence in Vancouver has softened my stance on musicals so that I can enjoy them. My other pet peeve is more difficult to reconcile. I absolutely hate tap dancing and there is lots of tap dancing in the The Drowsy Chaperone.
With that all cleared up I must assert that when tap dancers Laird Mackintosh (Robert, the groom) and Ryan Reid (George, the best man) did their stuff it was done well. But it was tap dancing. Then David Marr (Underling, the butler/servant) appeared on the scene. This usually extremely serious Vancouver actor ( His Greatness) did his little tap sequence between the other two. I laughed. Tap dancing must have its moments!
While I am 66 I am still an admirer of not only talent (she's got it) but of beauty and especially legs. Debbie Timuss (Janet) has legs that somehow are even more luscious by whatever stockings costume designer Phillip Clarkson made her wear. Timuss's dresses (Clarkson again!) are all designed to show off those legs and a white teddy later in the show made me feel 20 again.
Legs don't stop with Timuss. They keep on going with Nathalie Marrable (Kitty). She is forced to speak and sing with a ditzy voice so I spent more time looking at her legs. My distraction with legs was compounded when the gangsters (disguised as pastry chefs) Neil Minor and Shawn Macdonald, in photo above left, appeared. My, what legs!
I spotted Dal Richards in the audience who must have felt the same way as I did in enjoying the big band sound of the small group of musicians (Nick Apivor, Derry Byrne, Thomas Colclough, Rod Murray and Lloyd Nicholso, the musical director). How often do you get to hear a trombone?
As I watched the versatile and extremely funny Jay Brazeau play Man In Chair (sort of like a physical narrator who steps in, here and there, to tell you what is going on in his mind as the shenanigans on stage are what he sees with his imagination as he plays the records of this fictitious show set in the roaring 20s) I kept thinking of an older and chubbier Mike Harcourt with a tad more hair. Apparently this was no accidental connection on my part. My friend Abraham Rogatnick (who played the rabbi with Brazeau in the Playhouse's production of Fiddler on the Roof ) told me today that Brazeau often imitated Harcourt when Harcourt was our mayor. As I watched Brazeau's jovial performance I suddenly remembered that he had played a mortician in Lynne Stopkewich's 1996 film, Kissed. Now that's range.
If this wonderful play had been a dud I would still have liked it simply because it champions the use of one of he most beautiful and evocative words of the English language that has all but disappeared in our politically correct times. And that is aviatrix. The Drowsy Chaperone features an almost full scale WWI biplane (Take that, Miss Saigon!) and Trix (a black and very independent aviatrix played by Tshol Khalema).The play ends in a scene right out of one of my favourite films, the 1933 Flying Down To Rio with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Dolores del Río.
And if that is not enough there is Gabrielle Jones playing an always tipsy (is it iced water, is it vodka?) drowsy chaperone. Her "spraying" scene with the very funny (how was I to know of this hidden talent of his?) David Marr rivals the blind roller skating scene but I won't go into that one. Nor will I venture to reveal the identity of the most talented building manager in the business who has a key role in this production.
The Drowsy Chaperone runs until December 27.