The Drowsy Chaperone arrives from Broadway at The Novello, but any hint of wit or sophistication implied by the name of the theatre is not present in the show. I have to say at the outset that I disliked this show on Broadway, and I continue to dislike it here. The production is a faithful recreation of the US version, again directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, but with a new British cast led by Elaine Page as the sleepy companion of the title (Bob Martin, co-writer of the book and our narrator for the evening, is the only Broadway remnant).
To say this parody musical is light would be an understatement, but that’s not the problem, light and fluffy musicals can often be the most fun and joyfully satisfying. The problem is that the show has pretensions to witty comedy, when dumb humour is more its level, the production has no zip or lightness of touch, every stop is pulled out in order for the show to be ‘funny’, this makes for a leaden evening. The music, by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, is also eminently forgettable; I couldn’t remember a single tune or song title without the help of my programme the morning after I’d seen the show (for the second time remember). The choreography seemed perfunctory, and didn’t even come near to bringing the joy that a good old song ‘n dance number can often induce in me.
The show is set in ‘man in the chair’s’ dingy New York bedsit, he is a middle aged musical theatre aficionado, with a particular passion for fluffy 1920’s musicals. He introduces us to his favourite show by playing his lovingly treasured record of the original production. From then on the show comes to life (and I say that loosely) in his apartment, with commentary and occasional interjections by our narrator, even pausing the record or skipping a bit. Except of course that his favourite musical is actually a modern parody of a 1920’s musical, throwing in every cliché we think we know about musical theatre of the time. So here we are in a Pirandellian world of imagination and artifice, a man on stage talking directly to us and the cast of a Broadway show performing blithely in his flat. Sounds fun, but apart from the very occasional laugh, this cynical show didn’t carry me along at all. The cast were adequate, insofar as the roles they are playing can ever be adequate. Astoundingly, many musical theatre fans of my knowledge actually really like the show, whether they identify themselves with the narrator or have allowed the theatrical theme to blind them to critical reality, I don’t know. But many people clearly love the show, not enough perhaps, because at my Friday night visit the balcony and upper circle were both closed (and the stalls and dress circle were not full). I actually feel that this lifeless imitation of a real musical is very bad news for the West End, certainly putting some young people off seeing another musical again. One for camp followers of the musical spoof I think.