Back in 1997, a group of Canadian musical theatre actors decided to do something special for a couple of their friends who were about to be married.
So they wrote a fun little play and put it on at their friends’ stag party, thinking that would be the end of it.
But in 2006, that little musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, performed in a Toronto apartment almost a decade earlier, debuted on Broadway and went on to win five Tony Awards and seven Drama Desk Awards. It was then performed in Los Angeles, London and Melbourne. It has toured North America twice – not a small undertaking for a musical – and has even been translated and performed in Japan.
And later this month, The Drowsy Chaperone takes to the stage at the Tidemark Theatre courtesy of the Shoreline Musical Theatre Society, a troupe of local actors and musicians, for what director Heather Gordon Murphy says is possibly their most ambitious production to date.
The piece is built around a character simply called “Man in Chair” – although the character is sometimes played by a woman, as will be the case with the Shoreline performance. The character is a shut-in who is actually just listening to a musical soundtrack recording and imagining a stereotypical stage production from back in the heyday of musicals – the 1920s – which gets acted out by the performers while really only existing in the narrator’s mind.
What’s great about the show, Gordon Murphy says, it is that because the musical the narrator is imagining is, in itself, a stereotype of the genre, “the performers can just really take those clichés that everybody knows about in every musical and just take it way over the top, which makes it totally ridiculous, in the best possible way.”
One of her favourite aspects of the play is that it’s a true ensemble piece, giving every performer the opportunity to shine.
“There isn’t really a star,” she says. “There are all kinds of neat parts that people can really hook into and all the parts are interesting and have depth.”
But there’s also the music.
“It’s very hard music to play but we have such an amazing, brilliant trio that will be on stage – not in a pit – and so it’s gradiose but still intimate, and like everything else in the play, it’s way over the top, which makes it perfect for the play and super fun,” she says. “It’s really quite amazing, because it sounds like something you’ve heard before, but you haven’t.”
And while the play itself is built on cliché and stereotype, it’s also got layers – should you choose to look for them.
“It’s such a huge contrast between now and real life and the ridiculous, ridiculous things that are going on in a play which is set in the 20s, but yet it’s somehow also universal and characters we can all connect with,” Gordon Murphy says. “It’s clever and it has depth that you can explore, or you can just take it at face value and let it just be good fun.”
The show will take the Tidemark stage for three evening performances – Nov. 23, 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m. – and a matinee on the 25th at 2 p.m. Tickets for the show are only $30 and can be purchased at the Tidemark Box Office or online at tidemarktheatre.com