Georgia Engel, known to television viewers for her comedic roles on The
Mary Tyler Moore Show and Everybody Loves Raymond, is equally at home
on stage and will bring her talents to Toronto in a hit Broadway comedy
that was born right here in Canada (published in Forever Young)
(Georgia Engel photo)
By Ellen Ashton-Haiste
The voice at the other end of the phone line is unmistakable.
High-pitched, slightly breathless, little girlish and very perky — I
know I am talking to Georgette, the slightly ditzy girlfriend/wife of
Ted Baxter on the seminal seventies sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Or maybe it’s Pat MacDougall, Robert Barone’s mother-in-law on the more recent Everybody Loves Raymond.
Actress Georgia Engel sounds exactly the same as all her famous characters.
“I’m truly so excited about coming to Toronto!” Engel enthuses. She is reprising her role as the dotty Mrs. Tottendale in The Drowsy Chaperone,
a role she created for the Broadway production, as the musical comedy
which spoofs the musical comedies of the 1920s launches an 11-month
North American tour with a three-week run at the Elgin Theatre.
The run brings the show, which was born as the sleeper hit at the 1999
Toronto Fringe Festival and went on to commercial success at the Winter
Garden Theatre, full circle with a triumphant return to its birthplace
after taking the Great White Way by storm last year, garnering 13 Tony
Awards to add to its already extensive list of Drama Desk, Drama
League, Outer Critics Circle and Los Angeles Critics Circle honours.
The story is launched by a central character, known only as “the Man
in the Chair,” a modern-day musical theatre addict who starts the
action by dropping the needle onto his favourite LP, the soundtrack of
a 1928 musical comedy, The Drowsy Chaperone.
the crackle of his hi-fi, the musical magically bursts into life on
stage, telling the tale of a pampered Broadway starlet who wants to
give up show business to get married, her producer who sets out to
sabotage the nuptials, her chaperone, the debonair groom, the dizzy
chorine, the Latin lover and a pair of gangsters who double as pastry
“It’s a wonderful show, so original and presented in
such a fresh, magical way,” says Engel. “Everyone has done twenties
musicals and twenties satires on musicals but nobody’s done it with
somebody from today, with today’s sensibilities looking at the twenties
musical, which adds to the fun of it.”
And, she loves her
character who she had the privilege of creating from scratch for the
Broadway production. “I’ve always replaced other people so that was a
new and wonderful experience.”
Though well-known for her
television sitcom characters, Engel launched her career on Broadway,
playing opposite Ethel Merman in Hello, Dolly! and then joined the original production of House of Blue Leaves and appeared in My One and Only. Many other stage roles followed for the 59-year-old actress.
But asked if the stage is her first love, she responds: “You know, I’m
one of the few who love television as much as theatre. I’ve been
extremely fortunate and worked with some wonderful people. So I love
theatre but I do love television too.”
Engel describes her character in The Drowsy Chaperone as “a kind of absent-minded dowager, who can’t remember that the wedding is taking place at her house.”
Is there ring of familiarity there?
“It’s true,” she laughs. “I love doing silly stuff.”
She’s also enamoured with Canada. While the visit to Toronto will be a
first, she says she has worked with Stage West productions in Calgary
and Edmonton and had one brief tour stop-down in Mississauga.
“I laugh and tell my friends ‘I never met a Canadian I didn’t like’. There’s a sweetness to Canadians.
“I just fell in love with our creative team from Toronto.”
The show is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw (Spamalot) with music and lyrics by Tony winners Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and book by Tony winners Bob Martin and Don McKellar.
“They’re the most wonderful people,” Engel states. “And they’re the
humblest guys you will ever meet. They won all those Tony Awards and
none of it changed them a bit. They are just as sweet and down-to-earth
as can be. I find that so refreshing.”
She and Bob Martin,
who plays the Man in the Chair, are the only faces from the Broadway
show who are going on tour. Toronto is the only Canadian city on the
tour which will take the show on to Cleveland, St. Louis, Charlotte,
Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Birmingham, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Atlanta,
Naples, Orlando, Raleigh, Hartford, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Paul and
It may be an exhausting schedule but Engel thrives
on it. “I have done a lot of touring and I enjoy it very much. It is
exhausting but it’s also a wonderful way to have a pulse on other
cities besides New York and Los Angeles. I find it a blessing to go to
other cities and meet new people.”
Clearly, it’s not just
the voice that’s the same. The perky, upbeat, everlastingly optimistic
and hopeful characters that Engel has brought to life on the small
screen definitely have the spark of their creator in them.