An array of larger-than-life characters and a hilarious (if cheesy) script make this show difficult not to love.
It’s fair to say that The Drowsy Chaperone does not take itself particularly seriously as a musical. The very beginning of the show happens in complete darkness, with protagonist Man In Chair (Danny McNamee) entering through the audience, talking about the excitement of when the lights go down before a show… before saying how much he hates it when shows put actors in amongst the audience. As he sits down in his chair and invites the audience to join him while he listens to the LP of his favourite musical (it helps him out when he’s feeling ‘blue’) it’s clear the meta jokes aren’t stopping there.
McNamee continues to interrupt throughout the musical he’s watching with helpful comments – stopping after one particular line to add “I hope you heard that, because that’s the plot.” Lazy writing it may be, but it absolutely works. McNamee’s thorough characterisation and flawless comic timing shine through here, joining the audience in criticising the less good parts of the musical-within-a-musical in a way that could potentially become annoying, but in reality never comes close. Even later on as the character becomes a shade more serious, and the audience sees a tiny bit more into why the Man needs musicals to cheer him up, McNamee keeps things from getting too miserable, instead striking the balance just right.
The sizeable cast of the musical he narrates are an array of larger-than-life characters, each representing a familiar trope of 1920s musicals. Narcissistic bridegroom Robert (Ben Willcocks) and best man George (Andy Banks) make a humorous pair, one tall and self-assured, the other short and nervous. Early in the first half they tap-dance a duet which, while it went over my head (generally a straight theatre fan, even the most simple dance steps look complex to me) I’m reliably informed by more rhythmically-adept friends in the audience was nothing short of phenomenal. Starlet-turned-bride Janet (Phoebe Judd) was similarly impressive, particularly in ‘Show Off’, which required (true to its name) ribbon-twirling, several lifts, and a quick-change – all while displaying some of the strongest vocals even amongst a cast of seasoned Showstoppers.
Sevan Keoshgerian’s character Aldolpho was a real show-stealer – a parody of unrealistic European stereotypes in American media, Keoshgerian’s delivery of jokes that could either have been very, very funny, or completely overdone was spot-on, and had the audience in hysterics despite the script’s slight over-reliance on repeated gags. Special mention, also, is deserved by a pair of bumbling gangsters disguised as pastry chefs (Dan Wills and Cat Lewis) who worked well as a pair, playing off each other.
The ensemble, by-and-large, worked as an impressive unit – their initial entrance, subtly costumed in sepia-toned 1920s flapper dresses and suits, was visually stunning (unfortunately contrasted by less imaginatively-costumed scenes later in the show, where black t-shirts and leggings gave more of a mid-rehearsal feel). In dance-heavy numbers the chorus looked a little uncertain and under-rehearsed, but in more acting-based sections (during Judd’s ‘Show Off’, for example) they came together much more strongly.
The ambitious and much-hyped revolving stage seemed to be a little more trouble than it was worth: surrounded by sparsely-decorated set that looked a little more mental asylum than modern apartment, it seemed a little under-utilised throughout the show – more an occasional gimmick than an actual part of the set. Though perhaps, as on opening night it was the cause of more than one technical hitch, its infrequent use was not a bad choice. It also led to some clumsy blocking, where major characters were positioned on the revolve at the back with large numbers of ensemble cast in front, blocking them from sight; it would have worked if the revolve had had some height to it, but as it was left the audience straining to see what was going on.
However in the bigger picture these minor faults hardly mattered at all – opening-night hitches were covered well by a cast seemingly adept at improvisation (Andy Banks’ “You need a blindfold… okay, I can’t find the blindfold, but go through there and you’ll find a blindfold, put it on,” was particularly worthy of praise), and the good-natured cheese of the ‘inner’ musical coupled with the fourth-wall-breaking comedy from the Man In Chair completely won the audience over: as the show closed, with the on-stage characters inviting Man In Chair to join them and lose his ‘blue’ feeling altogether, it was hard not to feel a little emotional. Certainly, The Drowsy Chaperone is a bit on the daft side, with its over-the-top characters and bizarre monkey-themed set pieces, but it was impossible not to love.
The Drowsy Chaperone is performing in the Annex Theatre from 11th-14th March. Tickets are available to reserve from SUSU Showstoppers here.