Last night my sister and I took our husbands to the Dallas Summer Musicals performance of “The Drowsy Chaperone”, which we saw on Broadway two years ago with the original cast. Our first time to watch the show, we didn’t really know what to think during the first act, but by the time we reached the second act, tears were rolling down our cheeks from laughing so hard. We finally figured out that it’s a musical for people who both love musicals and can appreciate all the quirks of the classics.

We decided to see it again when the national tour came through town at Music Hall at Fair Park, and bought tickets a few months ago. I honestly hadn’t looked into it to see if the touring cast was as good as the original, mostly because I didn’t want to go in with any preconceived notions, but it turns out that this cast has gotten rave reviews, including here locally.

Of course, I didn’t read any of this before I sat down in the theater last night, so when I opened my Playbill to look over the cast list, my eyes popped when I read the name of the person playing the lead role — Jonathan Crombie.

If you recognize that name, then you’re almost definitely an Anne fan. If you’re asking yourself what an Anne fan is, don’t worry about it — you’re not one. And you can probably stop reading now; just take my advice and see the show (it’s in town only through June 15) because, though many musicals are described this way, “The Drowsy Chaperone” actually is a rollicking good time.

Anne fan is the descriptive term for anyone who read L.M. Montgomery’s timeless series (this year is the centennial celebration of the first book’s publication, in case you’re interested) and/or watched the Anne of Green Gables movies — and fell in love with them. And I think I can pretty safely say that any girl who fell in love with the movies also fell in love with Anne’s arch nemesis-turned-true love, Gilbert Blythe, played by none other than — you got it — Jonathan Crombie.

Of course, as soon as we realized that Gilbert Blythe/Jonathan Crombie would be starring in the musical we were about to watch (and already loved), my sister and I started laughing and acting like silly schoolgirls. And of course, we camped out at the stage door afterward to get his autograph. We told him he did a wonderful job, which was absolutely true. But then I had to tell him the truth about the stage door stakeout.

“We have a confession to make,” I said, glancing sideways at my sister.

“Are you Anne fans?” he immediately asked.

“Yes!” we exclaimed, bursting out laughing, to which he replied, “I knew it! I could spot you a mile away.”

I then told him that the real reason we came was because we loved the show, and when we saw his name on the cast list, we were so excited to get to watch him perform. I felt like I needed to justify myself as a true musical and theater lover (which I am), instead of coming off as a grown woman who can’t get enough of Anne of Green Gables (though that is accurate, too) and bought tickets only to see Gilbert Blythe.

The next part of the conversation was the greatest.

“Did you see the third movie?” he asked us. He was referring to the final Anne movie, which had nothing to do with either the content or the spirit of the books and which most Anne fans despise. We told him we had.

“What did you think of it?” he asked. We decided to be honest.

“It was terrible,” we told him, a bit nervously.

“We thought so, too!” he told us, adding that when the cast read the script, they didn’t like it, but they decided to make the best of it. He said it wasn’t too difficult for him because for most of the movie, he was in Europe, nowhere to be found.

“You cannot believe what validation that is for us to hear!” I told him. I’ve been angry about that movie since the first and only time I saw it, not only because it strayed so far from the books, but also because there was so much of Anne’s story left to tell on film, and it was squandered on some over-dramatized World War I plot.

It was fun to talk to Crombie about the Anne movies. When we told him we were glad to see him doing theater work, he told us, “This is what I really enjoy.” But he didn’t seem at all annoyed or embarrassed that we wanted to discuss a role he played 20 years ago. He even engaged us on the topic, and I was impressed by that — and thankful. I’m not sure how I would have handled it if my idyllic image of Gilbert Blythe had been marred. But Crombie didn’t disappoint — either in the conversation after the show or his performance during it, for which he deservedly received a standing ovation.

 


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