It has been a number of years since I have attended Theatre Under the Stars (or TUTS for short). At the time, I remember a lovely evening in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, watching a theatrical performance under the stars on the lawn, stretched out on a blanket. I can’t recall what it is that I saw or the theatre performance particularly standing out in my mind, but I do remember the wonderful feeling that came with enjoying a night of storytelling that comes from being outdoors on a warm summer evening. So when the opportunity presented itself to attend Theatre Under the Stars this summer, I smiled with delighted and said “Yes, please.”
In approaching Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park to see The Drowsy Chaperone, I realized just how long it must have been since I last attended Theatre Under the Stars as I was met with the luxuries of warm and cold beverages (on tap, no less), a mini-museum, gift shop, themed picture booth, garden cafe, and seats (although you could still sit with a blanket on the lawn, if you wished). The garden cafe in particular made me smile, as such an inviting space – wishing we’d come to dine here, rather than on Denman St. And in looking up the menu, I have to say that my salivating taste buds rather delighted at the thought of the grilled salmon dinner with mango ginger glaze. Not only did that sound delicious, but also more reasonably priced than many of the eats on Denman Street. Seeing as turning back time was not an option, we indulged in a beer, delighting that we could carry it to our seats and enjoy it along with The Drowsy Chaperone. So much more civilized than having to quickly guzzle your drink in a lobby before a production, or during the intermission.
As we sat down in our seats (aka lawn chairs), I marvelled at our spectacular view of the stage, thanks to the gentle slope of Malkin Bowl. I was, however, glad I brought a blanket as it added a nice cushion to my seat and was appreciated for warmth after the sunset. Other patrons carried cushions with them, that could be rented on-site for the show. In anticipation I waited for the show to begin. If I am honest, I had no idea what to expect of The Drowsy Chaperone. I was not familiar with the story, and while I suspected to be entertained, I did not expect exceptional musical theatre. After all TUTS describes themselves as ‘entertains families through popular musical theatre shows while providing a vibrant outlet and training ground to develop amateur performers and technicians both young and old.’ Well, these performers and technicians while they may consider themselves to be ‘amateur’, what they delivered was anything but, and would have rivalled the talent and storytelling of any professional theatre company across Canada.
Shawn Macdonald (as the Man in the Chair) walks on to the stage, invitingly setting us up for an evening in his living room, that of a gentleman bachelor, listening to records and drinking scotch. In particular, he wants to share a record of his favourite 1920s musical theatre with us, that of The Drowsy Chaperone. As he begins to narrate the musical along to the music, the musical comes to life right before us, there in his living room. But unlike a typical musical, he adds in his own critics of the actors that played the characters at the time, the history of the time period, his own opinions of how the scenes played out, and a little look into his own world. This critiquing of a musical within a musical is in fact what makes this story based on a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, so very, very entertaining and absolutely hilarious. I couldn’t help but relish in the very politically incorrect humour, that quite frankly was very refreshing in our overly politically correct society at present, in which one risks being accused of culture misappropriation for enjoying a taco night at home. As someone who’d term herself to be a Canadian mutt, as a mixture of many different ethnicities, and who was brought up with elements from many different cultures around the world, thanks to my parents’ similarly mixed ethnicities and that of their friends and colleagues, I get nervous these days about whether some would term my whole life as cultural misappropriation, as I am simply Canadian – meaning I eat, dress, and enjoy things from a number of different cultures, but don’t really have any ethnic traditions of my own. As Act II began to the ‘Oriental Palace’ with white people trying to portray and mimic the music of a Chinese opera, I tensed up as one of my dates, a Canadian gentleman of Chinese ancestry said, “I don’t know if I should be offended …” and then to my relief said, “but it’s just too darn funny.” And that unto itself is part of the cleverness of this story, it takes the piss out stereotypes, musicals, and even our present day over compensation of political correctness, getting us laughing at ourselves (while still thinking).
Admittedly I loved some of the stereotypes within the musical, like the slapstick gagsters, drunken chaperone, and female aviatrix! Perhaps the latter two as I could see elements of myself in them, with the assumption that single ladies beyond a certain age are all self-obsessed drunks, starved for sex, or that every strong, adventurous woman is a lesbian. I certainly have heard elements of this suggested about me in the past, and can chuckle at these stereotype as I know they are not true of me and many of my single lady friends, all over a certain age. Perhaps these were my “I don’t know if I should be offended …” moments, only it never occurred me to be offended as they were far too funny.
I delighted in the characters. Shawn for his nerdiness as he took himself far too seriously. In particular I loved it when he’d join in the dancing in the scenes, envisioning myself doing that far too many times in my own living room. Shannon Hanbury (as Janet Van De Graaf) for her grace of movement, an elegance that I desperately wish she could teach me, but I suspect would look comical coming from me. Caitriona Murphy (as The Drowsy Chaperone) for her most incredible voice. Stuart Barkley (as Robert Martin) for his adorable naivety and the gall to get on roller skates on a stage, let alone roller skates blindfolded on a stage. Kai Bradbury (as Gangster #1) and Nicholas Bradbury (as Gangster #2) for wearing male full body swimsuits (you’ve got guts) and delightful slapstick dancing. Peter Stainton (as Underling) for your dry humour in dealing with Sheryl Anne Wheaton (as Mrs. Tottendale), and for all the replaying of the spit takes. I can’t help but think of what a delight my grandfather would have had in playing that role, and how much he would have appreciated your performance. My compliments to all the cast and ensemble. You were an utter delight to watch!
In particular, I was in awe of the dancing and singing. Wow! Honestly, I am usually appreciative of one or two good voices on the stage, but it is rare to finding an entire ensemble that creates beautiful notes. My compliments to Kevin Michael Cripps, the Music Director and Conductor of the Orchestra (who were most impressive in their music and timing) and Assistant Musical Director Jenaya Barker. I particularly I loved the well timed moments between the cast and orchestra, where the ‘record’ was replayed. Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt, Assistant Choreographer Emily Matchette, and Dance Captain Colin Humphrey – Bravo! I don’t think I have ever enjoyed such a beautifully choreographed comedic dancing. Such a delight to watch, and really rather impressive when you think of how many dancers there often were on the stage.
I also took a particular fancy in the wardrobe of the ensemble. Kept thinking how much I would love to have Chris Sinosich, the Costume Designer, dressing me. Enviously I looked on at all of Janet Van De Graaf’s outfits, but truth be told, I suspect it was The Drowsy Chaperone’s attire that would have looked smashing on me. Oh, and what I wouldn’t give to try on Trix’s (played by Ali Watson) aviatrix attire. Would love to know if I could pull off that outfit as well as she did. My compliments to Brian Ball as well on the set design. It made us feel right at home, and was quite clever.
While the cast, ensemble and orchestra received a well deserved standing ovation the night I attended, so often we forget that these stories become as brilliant as they are, because of the unseen storytellers that are working in the wings. I give a standing ovation from myself and Fuzzywiggle Furrypants Roo now, in our living room, to Director Gillian Barber, Choreographer Shelly Stewart Hunt, Music Director / Conductor Kevin Michael Cripps, Set Designer Brian Ball, Properties Master Cameron Fraser, Costume Designer Chris Sinosich, Sound Designer Brad Danyluk, Stage Manager Lois Dawson, Assistant Choreographer Emily Matchette, Assistant Musical Director Jenaya Barker, Dance Captain Colin Humphrey, and Assistant Stage Managers Adam Beggs, Evan Ren and Madelaine Walker. Bravo!
Thanks again to all for what really was a most enjoyable summer evening of storytelling. If you are in Vancouver before The Drowsy Chaperone closes on August 25th, I highly recommend going. It is the perfect carefree summer escape, without having to battle traffic and smoke in an attempt to head to cabin country. You can find the calendar of TUTS nights by clicking here: https://www.tuts.ca/calendar and purchase your tickets by clicking here: https://www.tuts.ca/tickets.