As We Stumble Along...


Bob Martin as the Man in the Chair in the Broadway production of "The Drowsy Chaperone"

Before it won 4 Tony Awards and a garnered a slew of Drama Desk and Critic's Circle nods, before the New York Times said that Bob Martin's "Man in the Chair is a vital addition to the gallery of Broadway archetypes" and before today's release of the Original Cast Recording, "The Drowsy Chaperone" had it's start here in Toronto. Now it seems that everyone working in the Toronto theatre community has a "Drowsy" story of their own.

Mine starts at the 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival. I was appearing in a disaster of a show called "Afterwards You Smoke". I was not the writer of this debacle, just a member of the cast. It was sheer and utter torture. Every performer has those "Waiting for Guffman" moments and this was mine. Day after day I'd go out there in front a meager house and humiliate myself. The creator/director of the show did write a song just for me that I got to perform and I think the thought that I had the opportunity to do a number that was written with me in mind sustained me. I know it's the only reason I stuck it out.

"Drowsy" was part of the Fringe that year as well and was playing at the same theatre. Every day I would run into folks from the cast, some who I knew from around The Second City and ask them how their show went. They were always pumped, always excited. They were so in love with the material, they were working with their friends, they had to turn audience members away. It was a dream. When asked how our shows went my response was generally "soul crushing, mind numbing and punishing". I felt the most sorry for the one stray audience member who couldn't get a ticket to "Drowsy" but decided to stick around and see our show. Imagine how cheated that guy must have felt.

Our review in Eye Magazine read " The majority of the cast muddles its way through mini-dramas about 3-D porn, being a newbie to the gay hustling scene and swearing on the subway (the comic "twist" being that they substitute "bleep" for whatever naughty word is intended). Of this show's many problems, perhaps the worst was the audible directions heard from offstage throughout the show."

People, I could die right now just thinking about it. Seriously.

The review for "Drowsy" in the same publication (which was glowing) ends with "This near-flawless, ambitious production ups the ante for Fringe shows".

Enough said.

The "Drowsy" story begins before the 1999 Fringe Fest though. When Toronto actors and Second City alumn Janet Vandergraff and Bob Martin got married, Lisa Lambert, who was the best man, decided to mount a production at the Rivoli for the couple's stag and doe party. It was sort of a variety night with a bunch of folks pitching in, but the highlight was this parody of a 1920's musical with Bob and Janet as the main characters. It was so well received and I imagine, so much fun to do, that they mounted it as a Fringe show. That year, at the Fringe, "Drowsy" was plucked from relative obscurity by a major Toronto theatre company. The one referred to here at CSIS. It was workshopped and a larger production was mounted. This was a big deal and most thought the end of the road for this wonderful little show. What more could you hope for? Surely not something as ambitious as Broadway. Canadians don't always think big. Happily, someone involved with this show did, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I spoke with Bob and Janet before they left for New York and they were cautiously optimistic. I cannot imagine how thrilled they must be with the way things turned out. That their wedding and friendships could inspire this kind of success, which strangely feels like it happened overnight even though I know full well it didn't, must be a wonderful feeling. It all has a real "let's put on a show in the barn" feel to it that really warms my heart.

I've been teasing the Robeau that his claim to fame with his music theatre students at Sheridan and George Brown will be that he played the piano for Bob and Janet's wedding. I'm only half joking.

Bob Martin and his lovely wife Janet at the 2006 Tony Awards:

I still get excited when I think about seeing them at the show last Sunday night on TV. I haven't missed a Tony telecast since I was in 7th grade. To know the people giving the moving acceptance speeches makes the experience all the more rewarding.

For more on this wonderful, wonderful show visit their website:
  • The Drowsy Chaperone
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