Make believe

The songs are the draw in Drowsy Chaperone
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  May 7, 2008
Drowsy Chaperone

Of the five Tony Awards that The Drowsy Chaperone swept up in 2006, Lisa Lambert’s co-win with Greg Morrison for Best Original Score was the real prize. They lost out to Jersey Boys for Best Musical, and while Bob Martin and Don McKellar also won for Best Book, that was sort of the serving bowl for the treats being offered.

It all started back in Canada in 1999 with a bachelor party for Martin, for which Lambert, Morrison, and McKellar wrote a string of sketches spoofing musicals of the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. The show went over so well that Martin joined in to expand and polish it up for the Toronto Fringe Festival. They kept doubling their bet until they got it produced in New York and made Broadway history.

Being Canadian never hindered Lambert’s journey to the Big White Way.

“My mother had a really good collection of Broadway cast recordings that I became obsessed with at a really young age,” she said, an exuberant personality coming across on the phone from New York. “I eventually took them all into my own room and played them over and over again, scratching the records because I was playing the same things over again. That’s really how it started, and then it just stuck.”

Speaking of The Drowsy Chaperone, she said: “To me the show is really about memory or imagination — what I would go through as a kid, putting a record on and imagining a show.”

Although Lambert had written sketch comedy before, the Broadway venture began just one step up from throwing together a show in a barn. There was a lot that she didn’t know.

“I was used to writing songs, but building a number was something I really had to learn,” she said. “When the dancing comes in, when the vocals come back in, how the whole thing builds was something that I had to learn.”

Another lesson came early on. In creating a show that would be successful in the States, they dropped songs, punched up others, and added a few that were more exciting. Actress Georgia Engel came on board early, and at a Manhattan workshop for musicals she did a song called “I Remember Love” that they were sure would be a keeper.

“She sang this song that brought the house down,” Lambert said. “We felt like it almost sold the show. She was so funny, there was like a five-minute ovation afterwards.” However. By the time they took it to tryouts in Los Angeles, because of that number’s placement, it got drowned out by other songs. So they dropped it from the show.

“It was hard, to replace something when you’ve actually seen it work so well,” she said.

That kind of professional discipline was tough but necessary.

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