Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Novello

Direct from Broadway and originally written as a skit for a stag party, The Drowsy Chaperone (a musical within a comedy it claims) comes to London delivering 90 minutes of huge amounts of fun, though not quite the Elaine Paige star vehicle one might have imagined.

The show itself has a relatively simple plot, following the wedding day of pampered starlet Janet Van De Graaff who is about to give up show business to marry the dashing Robert Martin on the estate of ditzy Mrs Tottendale. Making life a little difficult for them is an array of odds and sods each with their own agendas, Janet’s producer who wants to stop the wedding, the outrageous Adolpho, Janet’s gin-drinking titular chaperone and a whole load of others beside. But where the show stands out is having it all narrated by Man in Chair.

For it is his story, his choice of show. We open with him feeling a bit blue and deciding to put on his favourite musical theatre LP on to cheer him up some and he remains onstage throughout as an observer but not at all passive as he experiences the emotions of each of the characters, living vicariously through them, all with a charm and a wit that is most endearing. With such a set-up, one could understand if the show itself lacked a little invention but it is a perfectly played pastiche of so many of the shows of the era and referencing many of them too, Anything Goes, 42nd Street, My Fair Lady and many more beside and ends up as a perfect ball of classic Broadway cheese.

As Janet, Summer Strallen is obnoxiously brilliant and her ‘Show-Off’ is one of the musical highlights; John Partridge is a rolling-skating, tap-dancing one-man-show if not vocally superior; Elaine Paige’s Chaperone is good although makes less impact than one might imagine in what is truly an ensemble role (which may surprise many who booked on the strength of the advertising) but it is Bob Martin’s Man in Chair who steals the show with a moving and captivating performance that holds everything together perfectly.

This is pure escapist fun, not particularly challenging but then you wouldn’t want it to be. Funny, tuneful, fantastical and warm-hearted, this is a show to put a smile on your face after a long hard day at the office.

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