The University of Melbourne Music Theatre Association’s new offering for the year is The Drowsy Chaperone, a satirical musical comedy with a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. The Drowsy Chaperone seems to be a hot favourite on the amateur theatre circuit this season, so how does this production hold up? Put simply, this production is of a very high standard. UMMTA has done a great job at capturing and replicating the eccentric and zany vibe of The Drowsy Chaperone, creating a colourful production that does the show justice.
The Drowsy Chaperone utilises the ‘show within a show’ technique to depict an eccentric and camp musical theatre enthusiast playing his favourite musical theatre record, the fictional 1928 hit ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’, with the show coming to life on stage from his mind. The Man in Chair, as the character is called, acts as the show’s narrator in a sense, interrupting the musical with wry observations on the show’s story, actors, and music. The fictional Drowsy show, brought to life from the Man in Chair’s mind, has a deliberately simplistic story, telling the story of the lead up to a young Broadway starlet’s marriage, with the pre-marriage tradition of not seeing each other before the wedding acting as the centrepiece of the story, allowing the other quirky characters to weave into this central plot. The show is comprised primarily of character driven set pieces, held together by comedic over the top songs, and the narrations of the Man in Chair.
The performances in UMMTA’s production are of a high quality, with every lead character being given their own set piece and moment to shine. Every cast member, including the minor characters and ensemble, effectively delivers the over-the-top zaniness that the show demands of the characters. Particular mention should go to both Spencer Hines, playing the Man in Chair, and Daniel Czech, who plays the caricature-like Italian ladies’ Man, Aldopho. The Man in Chair is the glue that holds the show together, and Hines effortlessly conveys the dry and cynical, yet camp persona expertly, breaking the fourth wall to deliver a plethora of perfectly timed one liners to the audience. Similarly, Czech, playing the over-the-top stereotypical Aldopho, delivers a memorable performance, perfectly accentuating the silliness and buffoonery the character requires.
Rebecca Cecil’s direction is also worthy of praise, with Cecil utilising the entirety of the limited theatre space effectively, staging a number of large and tricky set pieces successfully. As mentioned above, every performer was always acting and reacting to the goings on of the scene, which is a testament to Cecil’s direction. There are a number of gags in the show which are ‘milked’, so to speak, to their full capacity for comedic effect, to a deliberately cringe-worthy level. However, this direction by Cecil can be seen as a positive, as it only adds to the exaggerated and satirical nature of the show.
Musical direction under David Barrell is another strength for the production, with the 12 piece band working in conjunction with the performers. The harmonies in the musical numbers are rich and powerful, with both the musical accompaniment and the vocal talent doing justice to the upbeat and colourful jazz numbers. An honourable mention should go to Kara Sims, Tom Phyland, and Grace Haslinghouse, who portray Janet Van De Graaf, Robert Martin, and the Drowsy Chaperone respectively, whose rich vocal talent in some of the show’s vocally straining show-stoppers should be truly commended.
The choreography astutely reflects the atmosphere of jazz musicals from the mid-1900s, complete with seamless tap numbers and large scale intricate show-stoppers. Particular standouts from the show include ‘Toledo Surprise’, featuring a tongue in cheek vaudeville act from the 2 gangsters, and ‘Show Off’, a large scale ensemble piece with many moving parts and well timed costume changes.
On the topic of costumes, UMMTA and the costume design team do a great job bringing to life the vibrancy and colour of 1920’s high society, using the constrained budget of a University theatre company to its full capacity. The same can be said of the set design, making the most of the limited staging ingeniously through hidden doorways and collapsing walls.
The only minor issue with the production was the sound quality. There were a number of scenes where the microphones produced a loud and distracting rustling sound, which would take you out of the moment and at times caused the audience to miss jokes. However, I would put this down to opening night kinks, which I would imagine would be easily fixed for coming performances.
Ultimately, The Drowsy Chaperone is a fun and quirky satire of musical theatre from the mid 1900’s, filled with eccentric performances, upbeat dance numbers, and memorable tunes. I would highly encourage people to see this delightful, family friendly production before it finishes.