Beloved among long-time musical theatre lovers and occasional audience members alike, The Drowsy Chaperone will next weekend return to Melbourne, produced by CLOC. Featuring a text that exalts the tropes, pitfalls and beauty of what it means to be a theatre fan, the show is joined by two principal actors who have performed the material before.

The second time for each of the principal actors to be featured in the show, Michelle Hunt (Janet van de Graff) and Tony Burge (Man in Chair) have different memories of the first time they stepped into this musical-within-a-musical narrative, and can’t wait to take to the stage again.

While Burge looks back on his run as one of the gangsters in FabNobs’ production of The Drowsy Chaperone, he has found that playing the substantially larger role of Man in Chair with CLOC has offered him a wonderful challenge.

“I love this show, it’s the first time I’ve been really excited to return to a show I’ve done before. […] The last time I did the show was in the much more intimate setting at the FabNobs Factory, it was unique, and it’s a production I have a lot of affection for. When CLOC announced they were doing it, I was really excited to get involved and bring it to life on the much bigger stage at the National Theatre.”

“I’ve worked with quite a few companies, and for me, CLOC is the benchmark when it comes to organisation and [the] running of a theatre company. Being able to rehearse on the set a couple of weeks before Bump In is such an asset to the production. It means we can hit the ground running come prod week, and the technical side of the show will be well and truly ready for opening night.”

Burge is excited for audiences to see Melbourne’s latest offering of The Drowsy Chaperone, because, as his character says, “It does what a musical is supposed to do.”

“It’s funny, at times ridiculous, and it has just enough sentiment to make you go ‘nawww’… and, it’s short, which is great if you’ve parked in the multi-story car park down the road!”

The events of The Drowsy Chaperone spring from the mind of Man in Chair (middle), as he listens through his favourite musical recording. Photography credit to Ben Fon.

The events of The Drowsy Chaperone spring from the mind of Man in Chair (middle), as he listens through his favourite musical recording. Photography credit to Ben Fon.

For Hunt, having recently moved from America to Australia, returning to the role of Janet van de Graff after a four year break was meant to be.

“When I first arrived in Melbourne, I started to look for shows to audition for and I came across CLOC. I live in St Kilda and when they put on Mary Poppins, I went to the show. During the opening scene I thought, ‘I have to do a show with this company’, and the rest is history!”

“I came to auditions not only because I love this show, but I love theatre people. Why? Because theatre people speak the same language no matter where you’re from. I have been welcomed with open arms, American snacks, and caring smiles. My cast is so lovely. […] They are talented, hard-working, and it has been a pleasure working with them. CLOC has turned into my Aussie family and I am so lucky to have them.”

Speaking of her choice to audition for another incarnation of The Drowsy Chaperone and being re-cast as Janet, a character who must choose between her love of fame and performing versus her love of love, Hunt speaks of her luck in being able to portray a character that feels so grounded in her own life and love of theatre.

“I find myself lucky to get to play a character that shares the same struggles of choosing between the love of the stage and the love of love. As entertainers, we often have to asses and reassess priorities to make it all happen and sometimes you are forced to choose, because you can’t always have both, but that doesn’t mean the decision is easy. For Janet, leaving the stage isn’t a side thought, it is a life changing decision and she, like me, is a hopeless romantic.”

Michelle Hunt in costume as Janet van de Graff, 1920s Broadway diva and full time show-off. Photography credit to Ben Fon.

Michelle Hunt in costume as Janet van de Graff, a 1920s Broadway diva and full time show-off. Photography credit to Ben Fon.

When asked if she would consider returning to the show for a third time, Hunt didn’t rule anything out.

“I honestly love playing Janet. She gets to sing, gets to dance, and gets to make people laugh. The show itself is a treat and is so well written that all the characters are setup to be so entertaining. I’ve seen this show so many times now and I still laugh at new things every time we run it.”

The Drowsy Chaperone is the perfect show to inspire theatrical sentimentality, and to hook true theatre people into coming back to perform it again. Written as a love letter to the oldest conventions and stereotypes of theatrical story-telling, the show will offer its audience an expression of what it is to be transported and inspired by a love of theatre.

“Man in Chair is always talking about escaping reality with the simple start of a record. For me, that is how I feel every time I put in earphones to start a musical on my phone. I can see the characters dancing in my head, the sets that would be present and the costumes they would be wearing. Having a creative mind is never a bad thing, and with life getting you down now and then, for me, a musical is exactly where I want to escape to for an hour or two.”

You can catch crazy antics of The Drowsy Chaperone at the National Theatre starting October 2nd, with tickets available for purchase at this link.

All photography credit to Ben Fon.