The Drowsy Chaperone

Published April 17, 2008

Who would have thought that a skit originally written as a wedding present would, with a little shaping and moulding, make its way to Broadway and then the West End? That is exactly what has happened with fun-packed new Broadway transfer The Drowsy Chaperone. Matthew Amer was at the first night at the Novello to watch the show about a man's love for musicals, and the musical he loves the most.

First things first, The Drowsy Chaperone is silly fun, but there is nothing wrong with that; in fact, it left most of the first night audience grinning from ear to there. Its plot is not a difficult one to get to grips with: a man is feeling down, so puts on his favourite musical theatre record, the entirely fictitious 1928 comedy The Drowsy Chaperone. In doing so, the musical comes to life on stage and, while the slightly inane love story is played out, the man – Man In Chair as he is known – talks the audience through his favourite parts.

It is simple, but many of the best things in life are. Bob Martin, the groom for which the show was originally written, plays Man In Chair, a character any musical theatre fan will associate with. He often says out loud what the audience is thinking, skips through bits of the show he doesn't like and gets caught up in the action on stage, bouncing with joy or joining in with the songs.

The ensemble cast has licence to play up to pantomimic stereotypes, aping the golden age musicals that this show's writers so adored, and they do so with comic abandon. Not only are they playing characters, but they're playing actors playing characters: John Partridge has to act badly as Percy Hyman, the former toothpaste model turned actor who plays romantic lead Robert Martin; Summer Strallen and Elaine Paige compete for stage space as a new and an experienced performer, both desperate for the spotlight.

Even the story of fictitious musical The Drowsy Chaperone has enough within it to bring a smile to the face. Strallen high-kicks, changes costume and cavorts around the stage in Show Off, a number in which she professes to wanting to give up life in the limelight. Joseph Alessi as Latin lothario Aldolpho has a song in which all that he does is reiterate his famous name. Partridge sings while rollerskating in a blindfold… and why wouldn't he?

Yet even among all the silliness, there is enough here to draw you into the show and make you care. Every so often, the characters in The Drowsy Chaperone pull you into their world and into their love story. More often, it is Man In Chair who draws affection, either through his unbridled, though often defended, love for the musical, or through the sadness that is occasionally spotted behind his eyes.

Melancholy, though, is not what this show is about. Like the musicals it is based around, it is about raising the spirits. That the audience left with smiles on their faces says it all.

MA