Friday, June 08, 2007
A Musical Treat
With a tagline like: “Putting the Gin in Original”, I couldn’t very well not go and see it, could I? So on Wednesday, I did traipse over to the Novello Theatre to see The Drowsy Chaperone, though I was unsure, as someone who, in the main, doesn’t really ‘get’ musicals, whether a musical about someone who is obsessed with musicals would be quite the thing for me. But actually, despite a few reservations, yes, yes it was.
The show begins in darkness with a man's voice bemoaning how theatre can so often let you down; muttering about how so many shows these days are overlong and over-hyped and destined to disappoint (for some reason I found myself thinking of hobbits at this point). And then the lights went up and the man was revealed to us – a slight chap in a baggy cardigan and corduroy slacks, sitting in a cluttered apartment beside a stack of beloved LPs of musicals from the 1920s. One of these albums is for a show called The Drowsy Chaperone, which he proceeds to play while talking the audience through it, scene by scene, song by song, and feeding us tid-bits about the personal lives of the actors (the actors in the made-up musical, that is - keep up) and making little post-modern asides about breaches of the fourth wall.
This show-within-a-show is a slim thing indeed, much concerned with weddings and whatnot. It features a leggy starlet, a toothsome groom, a comedy Italian who appears to be wearing Pepe Le Pu on his head, and of course, Elaine Paige as the gin-happy chaperone of the title. Her part is a surprisingly small one (in every sense – her diminutive stature is gently mocked throughout), she only gets one song to herself.
The real star is the narrator, played by Bob Martin, whose role it was on Broadway and who also co-wrote the show. His is an endearing, warm performance, sweet and affecting, and one that helps considerably in skimming over some of the show's patchier moments. His nerdy enthusiasm for the show he's describing is such that you can't help but share it (even when the show itself seems rather unworthy of his adoration – there’s only one song that sticks at all in the memory: the hilarious Show Off). His portrait of a lonely man, revelling in his obsession with old musicals that he's never seen, only listened to, is also surprisingly poignant – it gives the show a heart, a hook, and keeps you involved.
So, OK, it’s not going to make me become a musical fan of Lisa’s calibre (our flat regularly vibrates to the sound of show tunes and she has seen Wicked three whole times) but I did enjoy myself, despite being slightly mentally traumatised by the American man with the World’s Scariest Facelift, who was sitting a couple of rows in front of me in the stalls.
PS: Every time Ms Paige did grace the stage, the words “Write It Down” kept popping into my head. These chaps have a lot to answer for.