‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ takes to the stage to bring the laughs this week

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer
kkellar@fortfrances.com

There’s going to be a wedding this week at the Townshend Theatre, and everyone is invited.

Row I Theatre, the company recently started by local performer and music teacher Trevor Barker, is gearing up for its inaugural production, a staging of the Tony-award winning ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ a comedy that takes on the tropes and stereotypes of classic 1920’s musical theatre. the show is set to open this Thursday, November 17, 2022, and run through to a Sunday matinee at the Townshend Theatre.

Barker’s goal in setting up his new theatre company was always to help bring more opportunities for performers in the district to local stages like the Townshend, and when it came time to choose a show for their first performance, Barker said The Drowsy Chaperone just made sense after multiple years of COVID stressors.

Retiring showgirl Janet Van De Graaff (Cynthia Hudson, right) doesn’t wanna show off no more in this scene from Row I Theatre’s production of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ set to run this week from Thursday to Sunday at the Townshend Theatre. Tickets are $20 in advance at Curvy Chick, or $25 at the door. – Ken Kellar photo

“The Drowsy Chaperone is just pure fun,” Barker explained.

“I thought our area could use a little bit of laughter after the last couple of years we’ve had.”

The show is an out-and-out comedy that presents a show-in-a-show as an anonymous Man in Chair guides the audience through a recording of his favourite musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a fictional show that hails from the 1920’s. The production is entirely tongue-in-cheek, with plenty of references and gags that relate to the tropes and cliches of musicals from that area.

Once the show itself had been decided upon, Barker sent out the call for auditions. He admitted that the show isn’t as well known as mega Broadway hits like Wicked or The Sound of Music, but the appeal of being able to perform seemed to win out with a number of performers from around the district.

“There was a little bit of buzz after putting out the casting call,” Barker said.

“I think a lot of people were just eager to see more performance opportunities. It encouraged some to get out of their comfort zones. A lot of people who haven’t prepared an audition in years, or ever. Some who’ve never been on stage, and some seasoned pros! We have a real mix here, and I have a feeling Row I Theatre’s future productions will see more and more people coming out for auditions.”

Of course, as much as a cast is necessary to stage a successful show of any kind, Barker also needed a crew behind the scenes to help bring the performance to life. Luckily, he had a network of professionals to call on, many of whom have lent their skills and experience to other shows, including high school musicals and plays.

“We couldn’t have done any of this without our incredible creative team,” Barker said.

“Renée Martin-Brown is vocal directing, Inno Laur and Owen Johnson are on sets, Caren Fagerdahl and Cathy Bruyere worked on costumes, Sara Empey is our stage manager, Robroy Donaldson and Sean Gustafson are in the Tech Booth. And my partner Michael del Puerto has really been an assistant director and coordinator behind the scenes, as well as performing in the show. There are so many people to thank, and I could take days. But it’s incredibly important having a team who knows their craft, and just runs with it. These people are all incredible collaborators and they’ve truly elevated this production.”

With only a few days to go until opening night, Barker and his cast and crew have been hard at work moving their set, props and costumes into the Townshend, as well as running through the show to make sure everything is where it needs to be. Barker notes that as much work has gone into getting everything ready, show week really drives home a sense of reality.

“Show week is when everything comes together and things start to feel real,” he said.

“Sets are in place and costumes are now being worn, so it’s neat to see the actors move around in that world. Everything is coming to life and it feels like magic. Still a few things to sort out, but I see how great it will be on opening night!”

Tickets for each night of The Drowsy Chaperone are available at Curvy Chick for $20 cash only, or at the door for $25. The show is set to begin at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, and will have a 2:00 p.m. showtime on Sunday afternoon. Barker encouraged everyone to come out for a showing to support local arts and performers.

“Everyone in the Rainy River District should come to see The Drowsy Chaperone because it will bring them pure joy,” he said.

“It will have them smiling and maybe even belly laughing in their seats. Also, we have incredible talent in this area that doesn’t often get showcased in this way. So come out to support us, which then helps us produce more shows.”