Friday, 22 January 2010

The Drowsy Chaperone ****

The Drowsy Chaperone
Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison, Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar
Produced by Melbourne Theatre Company
Where and When: Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, January 22 to Feb 27, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
 Published in Herald Sun

The Drowsy Chaperone is a pleasing, cheesy musical, catering to jaded 21st century sensibilities by poking fun at the trite plots, stereotypes, soppy romanticism and flimsy narratives of music theatre. It is fast, hilarious and derivative but it presses the right buttons with its familiarity and cheekiness.

The show, directed snappily by Simon Phillips, is riddled with smart, modern references and tightly written, impeccably timed gags. Our petulant snipes – normally muttered in the darkness of the stalls – are voiced by our onstage, contemporary, alter ego, a disconsolate, lonely show-queen. His obsession with early 20th century musicals establishes the framework for this play within a play.

Simply called The Man in the Chair, he is played by the inimitable Geoffrey Rush who reels us in with his playful but poignant portrayal of this misfit. In the opening blackout, he whines, “I hate theatre.” (Laugh) “Well, it’s so disappointing, isn’t it?” (Bigger laugh). We love him already. Through The Man, we participate vicariously as he perches on an old armchair, clutching a brandy, playing his Mum’s musical recordings and narrating his favourite, The Drowsy Chaperone, an obscure, forgettable 1920s musical.

This structure allows writers, Bob Martin and Don McKellar, to interrupt, edit, fast-forward and commentate upon flaws in the lyrics, racial stereotypes, idiotic slapstick routines and on the personal lives and deaths of the original cast. There is no perceptible dramatic arc except, perhaps, for The Man’s occasional revelations about his isolation and his love of the musicals that divert him from his blues.

The stage is small but The Man’s dreary, cramped apartment transforms – through the magic of Dale Ferguson’s set and costumes – into a luxurious mansion. He inserts himself into the 1920s production, singing and dancing awkwardly with his favourite stars, popping up in the middle of a chorus line.

Sultry, rich-voiced Rhonda Burchmore plays the vampish chaperone, whose ‘drowsiness’ increases with every martini. Christie Whelan is vivacious as show-off showgirl, Janet, while Alex Rathgeber is suitably conceited as her white-toothed beau whose tap routine with Rohan Browne, the zealous best man, is a highlight (choreography by Andrew Hallsworth). Adam Murphy is delicious as over-acting latin lover, Aldolpho, and Shane Jacobson booms as overblown producer, Feldzieg.

The onstage band is tight playing songs by Lambert and Morrison that parody musical and vaudeville styles with titles such as, Accident Waiting to Happen, As We Stumble Along, The Bride’s Lament and Toledo Surprise.  This show ain’t high art, but it’s fun!

By Kate Herbert

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