Like with most musicals, you’ve gotta have some element of fondness for the genre to be able to fully enjoy Melbourne Theatre Company’s take on the latest Broadway wunderkind, The Drowsy Chaperone. There’s something beautifully tongue-in-cheek about this show, a certain self-mockery that guarantees appeal to anyone with the slightest knowledge of the musical theatre industry.
Melbourne Theatre CompanyThe Playhouse, The Arts Centre, Melbourne Thursday, 21 January, 2010 (Opening Night) Like with most musicals, you’ve gotta have some element of fondness for the genre to be able to fully enjoy Melbourne Theatre Company’s take on the latest Broadway wunderkind, The Drowsy Chaperone. There’s something beautifully tongue-in-cheek about this show, a certain self-mockery that guarantees appeal to anyone with the slightest knowledge of the musical theatre industry. The consistently brilliant Geoffrey Rush plays our affable but lonely host, Man In The Chair. As the first of Chaperone’s countless and readily admitted “broad stereotypes” Man is your typical middle aged divorcee desperate to squeeze what little enjoyment there is left out of his life via his nostalgia for classic (and somewhat eccentric) Broadway musicals. To quote Man: “We just wanna be entertained – isn’t that the point of musicals?” He carefully loads one of his precious vinyls onto the record player and so begin the sounds of the fictional musical ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ – a blithely all-singing, all-dancing and essentially ridiculous narrative about an impending marriage between a couple of glamorous youngsters (played with promise by MTC newcomers Alex Rathgeber and Christie Whelan). Although The Drowsy Chaperone is undeniably a celebration of all things wonderfully indulgent back in the heady days of 1920’s America, there is a particularly post modern feel to its plot structure and flow. Conceived in a very unorthodox way by American Bob Martin in 1998, we watch the fictional 1928 musical ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ played out in Man’s modern-day apartment while he sits on the sidelines listening to the vinyl recording and constantly interjecting with amusing quips about ‘Chaperone’s’ music and lyrics. e.g. “You can see where this scene is going”. Like all classic Broadway musicals, there is a cast of thousands. Although having some of the show’s best lines, Rhonda Burchmore is predictable in the title role. Despite this, there is however joy in watching all the bizarre characters unfold, with particular highlights being Adam Murphy as villain/loverat Adolpho, the indomitable Robin Nevin as doddery old Mrs. Tottendale and Zahra Newman in possibly one of the best cameo roles on stage I’ve seen in years as Trix (read – lesbian aeroplane pilot). The finest scenes by far are the ones Man joins in on. Dancing, singing and tapping around like a stage musical wannabe, he desires to be part of the cast and eventually becomes one with the choreographed group numbers singing exuberantly alongside the fictional characters as they fittingly overact a plot full of despair, lust, confusion, love and amusement. The hilarious image of Rush trying to tap dance along with other cast members will forever remain etched in my mind and if anyone ever needed confirmation of Rush as one of this country’s foremost physical actors, this is it. I’d love to see more of Andrew Hallsworth’s smart, unique stage choreography and Matthew Frank’s musical direction is slick to say the very least. There’s certainly enough in this production to keep anyone amused with every plot device under the sun to guarantee continual laugh-out-loud moments. The Drowsy Chaperone most definitely lives up to the hype that has surrounded it since its Broadway debut and Tony Award wins back in 2006. Kudos to Simon Phillips and The Melbourne Theatre Company for deciding to stage such an unashamedly fun, bright cocktail of a show. Anyway, at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with depending on a little fluffy entertainment to lighten the load of life’s grind – isn’t that the point of a Broadway musical after all?! Until 27 February, 2010