Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar, Lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison
This play was written for theatre nerds. Luckily, while I probably can’t comment because I love theatre myself, The Drowsy Chaperone is far more reaching than that. Deep down, everyone is nerdy about something. There is always something that you know “too much” about because you love it. Who doesn’t know someone who is so knowledgeable about obscure details of a sports team that they know more about it than the players on it do? Or someone who knows everything there is to know about trains? With the advent of Wikipedia, it is quite possible to follow a television show, book series, movie franchise, celebrity, or sports team in real time, learning every possible thing about them.
The main character of The Drowsy Chaperone is aptly named the Man in the Chair. He is a bit of a miserly middle-aged fellow who loves old musicals. While we don’t know that much about him, it is clear that he a) prefers fantasy over reality and b) loves the theatre a lot. He listens to old vinyl records of vintage musicals to improve his mood, and he researches the actors and the trends about the era in order to get closer to and feel more a part of the musicals he enjoys. He is also rude and sarcastic and his whole part is basically a long monologue to the audience, exploiting trends and stereotypes and giving us all sorts of trivia tidbits that we would probably hate if we were actually visiting him.
Man in Chair proceeds to play a record of The Drowsy Chaperone, which is a fictional 1928 musical that is a pastiche of vaudeville and early Broadway shows. It has all of the key elements of an old-fashioned musical with the sarcastic wit of the Man in the Chair’s running commentary as an added bonus.
Every so often, the play pauses as the Man stops the player to tell us something; the actors stop mid-song or start repeating themselves when the record skips, and when the Man is supposed to change the record to change acts, he puts the wrong record on and a song from a completely different pastiche starts up.
The story itself is not that exciting – it is merely a string to tie up the entertaining musical numbers and skits. (The Man comments on this very fact.) A dozen clichéd characters show up at a manor house to celebrate the wedding of a young oil tycoon and a theatre star leading lady. Hilarity ensues, misunderstandings abound, and it all ends happily with a bunch of weddings. The type of thing where we would all go home happy, which is why the Man enjoys it so much.
I was unfamiliar with the play before going to see it (unusual for me – I like to case out movies and plays before I see them) and had no idea how witty it was. I had no idea about the Man in the Chair and was not sure about a 1920s comedy plot. A parody or pastiche on its own would be funny only for a select few people who really enjoy 1920s-era musical comedies. The Man in the Chair turns the story back on ourselves. Why are we enjoying ourselves? What is it about the play that is so entertaining? Is it even entertaining? He loves it, but plenty of people would not. The clichés are old, the stereotypes horrid, the lyrics are bad, but the Man grew up with the record and loves it.
But we all have our favourite show, team, book, or whatnot. We can share what we love about them with others, even if the others are not nearly as obsessed with it as we are. We can at least all relate to the Man in the Chair.
The Drowsy Chaperone is the best kind of entertainment – it entertains you, and teaches you something about the world and yourself while still keeping you entertained.