‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ was slick.
‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is a rarely performed gem of theatre and Savoyards have fashioned a practically perfect production.
Described as a ‘musical within a comedy’, ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ spotlights an old musical theatre fan, Man in Chair (Brad Ashwood), as he earnestly invites the audience to listen to his favourite musical, ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’, and its glamorous, theatrical world unfolds on stage.
The plot within the musical follows the wedding day of Janet Van De Graaf (Carly Wilson) and Robert Martin (Rhys Rice). Things go awry when her producer, afraid that he’s lost his star performer, concocts a plot to sabotage their wedding. The show bounced between the musical and Man in Chair’s narration. The subplot of Man in Chair’s own recluse was equally as entertaining as the audience follows his own character arc and sees him in peril over his phone ringing or the lights blacking out disrupting his escapism, juxtaposing the razzle dazzle of the 1920s providing a complete and rich piece of theatre.
Combining these two worlds was smoothly achieved under Robbie Parkin’s direction. He noted each of the musical comedy parodic elements and played them to a hilt. It was clear Parkin had a cohesive vision for the show and kept the homage to the 1920s authentic. A consistent element of merit was every actor on stage achieved the speaking tone and accent that was reminiscent of 1920s musicals which further transported the audience into the Main in Chair’s imagination of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’.
As the Man in Chair, Brad Ashwood was perfect and held the show together. With such an easy listening voice, it is no surprise that Ashwood has worked extensively as a voice over artist. These skills shone when addressing the audience making the fourth wall break feel quite intimate as if he was disclosing important information to a friend. Even when not in the spotlight, Ashwood sincerely showcased a wide range of emotions from his exuberance towards the musical to frustration when reality intervened. It was particularly endearing watching him recreate the dance moves from his chair as they were being lavishly performed next to him. The audience felt his adoration for the show and fell in love with it alongside him.
Carly Wilson was witty and believable as the young starlet, Janet Van De Graaf. Her rendition of Show Off where Van De Graaf rejects her life on the stage for her husband, majestically showcased Wilson’s leading lady vocals and charisma.
As her husband to be, Robert Martin, Rhys Rice was slick (even when rollerblading blindfolded across the stage). With beautifully smooth vocals and transfixing tap-dancing skills, his performance of Cold Feet with best man George (portrayed by Andrew King) was exceptional. The two men never missed a beat and it was delightful to see this classic style performed in such a polished and vibrant way.
The title character, The Drowsy Chaperone, was the diva-ish chaperone to the bride but usually quite drunk – hence drowsy. Vanessa Wainwright was indulgent in this role. She demonstrated effective drowsiness and her impression of her former stardom was reminiscent of Judy Garland later in life. Her tango with Adolpho (Christopher Thomas) was a stand-out performance.
As Adolpho, the wannabe Latin Casanova, Thomas was hilarious. He used strong physicality to create the character and his rapport with The Drowsy Chaperone was electric. A particularly clever piece of characterisation was having his hair (or wig) come to a quiff at the front (wig, hair and makeup design by Lynne Swain) which truly encapsulated his try-hard suave nature.
Nathaniel Young was gruff and purposeful as producer, Mr Feldzieg. His facial expressions as he reluctantly went along with ditzy wannabe leading lady Kitty’s chaos (Kaitlyn Burton) were hysterical. Burton was adorable and energetic as she believably portrayed the ‘dumb blonde’ trope.
The ageing hostess Mrs Tottendale alongside her butler, Underling (Jacqui Cuny and Warryn James respectively) made for many humorous moments together as Underling is made to keep a straight face against Tottendale’s haughty demands.
Introduced to us in the opening number and then not seen until the end of the show was the fun Trix the Aviatrix (Vivien Wood) who flies the company to Rio. Wood’s vocals soared in her catchy song, I do I do in the Sky giving the show the expected euphoric happy ending.
Stand out performances came from the duo of baker posing gangsters brought to life by Aaron Anderson and Astin Hammermeister. Their strong physicality and synchronised movements consistently captured the audience’s attention and the pair were an exceptional comic duo.
Rounding out the cast was the ensemble composed of Andrew McArthur, Jo Badenhorst and Daniela Clever. This trio added to the joy of the dance numbers, made very cheeky monkeys in ‘Bride’s Lament’ and delivered impressively slick set changes.
Lighting design by Gabrielle Burton, Ethan Houley and Allan Nutley effectively captured the moods of the numbers. Red lighting was used Adolpho’s tango with The Drowsy Chaperone and light blue for Janet’s melancholy ‘Bride’s Lament’. Spotlights were effective in separating the Man in Chair from the action if he needed to make a comment.
Costume design by Kim Heslewood and team was outstanding and truly encapsulated the fashion of the era, immersing the audience into the flapper wedding party. Kitty’s gold dress was especially gorgeous.
Through incorporating tap, vaudeville, burlesque and more, choreography by Natalie Lennox and Alanah Giles was a classy and stunning homage to the musicals of the 20s. Particularly effective moments were numbers like Toledo Surprise where the entire cast moved in synchronicity to create a spectacle.
Musical direction by Benjamin Tubb-Hearne ensured that the cast created full harmonies that resounded through the theatre. In addition to the accents, a lot of the cast also achieved a vintage tone to their singing voices. The orchestra enhanced the musical numbers with their vibrant sound enriching the pieces with grandeur.
Savoyards should be highly commended for introducing audiences to such a rarely performed show in such a polished and professional production. Hopefully more theatre companies will follow suit and revive more refreshing, unorthodox stories.
‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ delights audiences until Saturday, 9 October 2021. Tickets are available at the Savoyards website.
Photography by Sharyn Hall.