Chaperone musical far from drowsy
Last Saturday I drove down to Victoria to take in a musical theatre production called The Drowsy Chaperone. Leaving home in a thick fog, it wasn’t until Ladysmith that I broke through the haze into gorgeous blue sky and sunshine. It was a stunning February day in the Capital City. No daffodils in bloom thus far but scads of snowdrops flourishing in local gardens.
Parking in a downtown lot, I toured around the waterfront for a few hours before walking two kilometers from the city centre to the Rockland neighborhood of Victoria.
Rockland is a historic district of Victoria developed in the early 1880s that overlooks Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains. Designed to be a prestigious neighborhood the area became known as Victoria’s ‘Nob Hill’. Wealthy entrepreneurs, bankers, and politicians commissioned architects to design ornate mansions that would symbolize their station in life.
In the 1940s, a housing shortage brought on by the war led to many mansion properties being sub-divided into apartment buildings, a trend which has continued to this day although condominiums are now the norm.
I was in the Rockland neighborhood looking for a live performance venue called the Langham Court Theatre where The Drowsy Chaperone was advertised as being staged. Using the GPS on my iPhone, I finally located the theatre tucked into a property at the end of a narrow oak-treed lane. The wooden structure was originally the carriage house and barn for an estate called The Laurels that had been built in 1889 for the Robert Ward family.
In 1938-40, the wooden buildings were reconfigured into a fully functioning theatre known as the Victoria Little Theatre and Dramatic School. In 1950 the theatre group changed its name to the Victoria Theatre Guild and Dramatic School and renamed the building The Langham Court Theatre.
I’ve attended many concerts and plays in Victoria over the years and surprisingly this was my first visit to this theatre. I’ve learned from posted information on the group’s website that since 1929, over 2,800 performances have been staged in the venue “using over 4,000 actors, more than 3,200 set builders, 3,000 lighting technicians and over 500 directors and stage managers. Over a quarter of a million patrons have been greeted by more than 11,000 ushers and front-of-house volunteers.” An amazing record!
And how was The Drowsy Chaperone? Its success speaks for itself. Before the musical’s first curtain the run was extended due to exceptionally strong ticket sales. I was fortunate to purchase a ticket months in advance on a tip from colleagues in the Bard 2 Broadway organization.
The Drowsy Chaperone is a Canadian success story. Starting its life in 1999 as a mere bachelor party skit, it was then expanded into a show for the Toronto Fringe Festival. Further development led to a main-stage production at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre in 2001. Interest from New York producers led to a short run in Los Angeles before moving on to Broadway and London's West End. The New York production was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, and won five including Best Book and Best Original Score.
Settling into my second row seat at the Langham, the lights came up on a character called Man in a Chair. Played by veteran Victoria actor Kyle Kushner, we soon discovered that he lives alone and is feeling a little blue. Chatting with the audience he asks if we’d like to hear a vinyl recording of his favourite 1920’s Broadway musical. Suddenly we become part of a transformation into his imagined world of old-time musical theatre as the stage erupts into a rollicking opening number.
Running for 90-minutes flat without intermission, The Drowsy Chaperone was an afternoon of wonderful songs, dance and comic sketches. The action never stopped. Tap-dancing, a character roller-skating blindfolded across the stage, confusing sub plots, all added to the show’s hilarity.
However, being a musician my ears tend to listen acutely to the accompanying band backing a show. In this case a trio of piano, bass and drums substituted for the written score of 7-players. Stephanie Sartore was rock-solid as the pianist. However, her two accompanying musicians I found wanting, supplying virtually no drive at all to the score. At times they played so timidly they may as well not have been there. However, the cast itself was energetic and polished at every level. Alf Small as the Latin lover Aldolpho was a standout.
Of course being a musical, everything worked out in the end. I left the theatre on a natural high! Absolutely a fun afternoon, and worth the trepidation of threading my way back home through the Malahat mad-cap rush hour.