Bob Martin’s Man in Chair returns to Toronto with “The Drowsy Chaperone” and has been awarded a welcome that would gladden the heart of any homecoming queen. Playing the role in Los Angeles, on Broadway and in London hasn’t dulled Martin’s edge. If anything, it’s been sharpened; he now gets even bigger laughs than when he first began. As the Broadway buff who brings his favorite original cast recording to life for the audience, Martin is the single element that makes this lightweight confection such a charmer.
It’s no wonder Toronto is re-embracing the show. This is the city where “Drowsy” began in 1998 as a bachelor party sketch, gradually expanding into a Fringe show and then a small-scale commercial outing for Mirvish Prods. before being picked up by producers Kevin McCollum and Roy Miller and groomed into a Tony-winning Broadway hit.
This is the first stop of the show’s North American tour and — aside from the fact Jonathan Crombie will step in for Martin after Toronto — it’s the version set to travel across the continent.
At the moment, the production is solid enough to make most audiences happy, but people with memories of the Broadway staging may find some of the male leads need to work their way more thoroughly into their roles. Especially in a show like this, where style triumphs over substance every time, each character is a crucial part of the mix.
Many of the major roles are being brought off with fine style. Other than Martin, Georgia Engel is the sole carry-over from the Gotham cast and she’s grown even more daffy and adorable as Mrs. Tottendale. Robert Dorfman, as her vis-à-vis, Underling, however, needs to find a more sly edge to his comedy.
That’s the problem with many of the male characters. Richard Vida’s George, Cliff Bemis’s Feldzieg and the Gangsters of Paul and Peter Riopelle are all playing in a broader style than their New York predecessors. There’s a kind of Damon Runyon feel to them that isn’t exactly right for the spoofery of Martin and Don McKellar’s book or Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison’s score.
James Moye’s arrogant swain Aldolpho is all super-sized attitude with nothing underneath to make the characterization truly amusing.
On the plus side, Andrea Chamberlain makes a smashing Janet Van De Graaff, with just the right note of brassy assurance. Her deft handling of director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s inventive staging in her big number, “Show Off,” remains a highlight.
And Nancy Opel brings her unique style to the title role. Even if she lacks some of the over-the-top-craziness that won Beth Leavel a Tony, she replaces it with her own martini-dry delivery that earns high returns.
Production values are ace throughout and Nicholaw has kept the pacing brisk and bright.
The only questions about this version’s long-term success are whether the men of the company can acquire a bit more spit and polish as the run continues, and if Crombie will be able to fill the considerable void created by Martin when his man finally leaves that chair.