Not drawn from source material, but the result of pure imagination, the show's seeds are in a public performance of what was a wedding gift to Toronto Second City actor Bob Martin: In 1998, Martin's friends Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison wrote songs and scenes for an original show called The Wedding Gift, which served as a kind of bachelor party for Martin, his friends — and even strangers.
Martin, Lambert and Morrison thought the lark was too special to let fly away, so they developed the piece into The Drowsy Chaperone, a delicious and wildly comic spoof of musical comedies and their desperately loyal fans.
Now being directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw following separate, cult-hit developmental productions in Toronto, the show stars Bob Martin himself as Man in Chair, the host and guide for The Drowsy Chaperone. Previews began at the Ahmanson on Nov. 10. Commercial producers are waiting in the wings to take the show to Broadway if critics and audiences are encouraging. Performances continue at the Ahmanson to Dec. 24.
Man in Chair sits in an armchair and plays his favorite obscure cast album — the disc of the forgotten 1928 Gable & Stein show, The Drowsy Chaperone. The old work comes to life around him on stage, performed by a cast that includes Sutton Foster, Georgia Engel, Beth Leavel and more.
With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, the musical begins with the introduction of a rabid musical theatre fan (Man in Chair) who tells backstage stories and the on-stage plot of the title musical. The daffy '20s show centers on a grand wedding. The Drowsy Chaperone company includes (in alphabetical order) Danny Burstein (as the Latin lover), Georgia Engel (as the dowager), Sutton Foster (as the bride), Linda Griffin (ensemble), Edward Hibbert (as the butler), Troy Britton Johnson, Eddie Korbich (as the best man), brothers Garth Kravits and Jason Kravits (as actor-brothers who play gangsters), Beth Leavel (as the drowsy chaperone), Kecia Lewis-Evans (as the aviatrix), Bob Martin (as the narrator, known as Man in Chair), Angela Pupello (ensemble), Jennifer Smith (as the ditzy chorine), Joey Sorge (ensemble), Patrick Wetzel (ensemble) and Lenny Wolpe (the producer).
The scenic design is by David Gallo, costume design by Gregg Barnes, lighting design by Ken Billington and Brian Monahan and sound design by Acme Sound Partners. Casting is by Bernard Telsey Casting and Amy Lieberman, C.S.A., hair design is by Josh Marquette, orchestrations by Larry Blank, dance and incidental music arrangements by Glen Kelly (The Producers), music director/vocal arrangements by Phil Reno, technical supervision by Brian Lynch and Karen Moore is the production stage manager.
The Drowsy Chaperone is billed as "a deliciously funny and affectionate love letter to the great musicals of the 1920s. A present-day musical theatre addict, the ultimate Everyfan, is eager to share his favorite Broadway musical, the fabled 1928 Gable and Stein musical The Drowsy Chaperone. As he places the rare cast recording on his hi-fi, The Drowsy Chaperone blooms to life on stage, telling the tale of a pampered Broadway starlet who wants to give up show business to marry, her producer who sets out to sabotage the nuptials and the chaperone, the debonair groom, the dizzy chorine, the Latin lover and a couple of gangsters."
The Drowsy Chaperone was the sleeper hit of the 1999 Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival. After a sold-out run, a full production was presented at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre, where it was lauded by critics and cheered by audiences.
Sutton Foster (a Tony Award winner for Thoroughly Modern Millie, and a nominee for Little Women) broke her wrist in rehearsal, but went on nevertheless — she's in a cast, literally.
Tickets for The Drowsy Chaperone are available by calling (213) 628-2772 or online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.
In its recent development, The Drowsy Chaperone was also seen as part of National Alliance for Musical Theatre's 2004 Festival of New Musicals in New York City.