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.


Andrew (a West End Whinger) said...

We're delighted you enjoyed it, Natasha. It is very original and fun.

The night we first went the house was stuffed with theatre and media types and one of the biggest laughs of the night came when Man in Chair explained that Elaine Page's actress character was "notoriously difficult to work with". In fact, there were cheers. Hysterical.

The show is getting a real mauling in the press which I think is quite unwarranted. God knows we get precious few original musicals open in London and this is a breath of fresh air after all the revivals and jukebox musicals we've had to endure.

As Man in Chair says (from memory, so bear with me):

"In those days you went to the theatre saying 'I wonder what the Gershwins have for us tonight' or 'Can Cole Porter pull it off yet again'. Nowadays it's "Please Elton John, MUST we continue this charade."

Interval Drinks said...

Yes, a lot of the reviews have been unnecessarily harsh. I thought it was sweet and entertaining, if admittedly a bit patchy, especially towards the end.

DannyBoy said...

I couldn't believe the harsh review Michael Billington gave this in the Guardian, he's not doing himself any favours in the 'dead white men' debate is he!

Tom said...

I disagree - this show is one of the most overrated and flimsy things around - and this is from somoene who does 'get' musicals. Lord knows what the Newsnight Review team were on when they saw it.