The Drowsy Chaperone

April 21, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Strong performances

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 20 – Sat 23 April 2022
Review by Tom Ralphs

Edinburgh Music Theatre’s post-pandemic return at the Church Hill Theatre is The Drowsy Chaperone, a show which began life as a collection of songs presented to comedian and writer Bob Martin and his fiancée as a wedding present.

Exemplary direction from Jo Heinemeier and choreography from Ashleigh Le Cras, coupled with excellent performances all round, cannot mask the problems of the book by Martin and Don McKellar and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.

Man in Chair – Ian Fallon. Pic: EMT

Ian Fallon takes on the role of Man in Chair who sets the context for the show as he contemplates his record collection and selects the soundtrack of a 1928 musical comedy – The Drowsy Chaperone. As the needle hits the record, the musical comes to life behind him with the performers returning from the dead to perform it.

Fallon embraces his character’s geeky love of musicals, looking on with wide eyed enjoyment as he defends The Drowsy Chaperone against all the shortcomings that he readily acknowledges.

The problem is that the plot of The Drowsy Chaperone itself is wafer thin and underdeveloped. While the whole show struggles to decide whether it wants to be a parody of musicals in general or of mistaken identity romances in particular.

sideshow

The addition of the Man in Chair as narrator to turn it into a musical within a comedy adds a further issue. Too often the more interesting musical is turned into a sideshow for the less interesting history and present day storyline in his between-song comments on the musical and the actors who performed it.

Feldzieg (Ian McKenna) and Janet (Chloe Anderson). Pic: EMT

The plot of the musical sees Broadway Producer, Feldzieg (Ian McKenna) try to prevent the marriage of his star talent Janet Van de Graaff (Chloe Anderson) to oil tycoon Robert Martin (Cameron Kirby), as he knows that she will give up showbiz as soon as she is married.

Feldzieg tasks Italian Lothario Aldolpho (Andrew Hally) with seducing Janet on her wedding day. A scheme which, needless to say, doesn’t go to plan: He mistakenly seduces her chaperone (Katie McNulty) who is meant to be keeping Janet away from Robert ahead of the wedding.

Hally plays up to both the ridiculous stereotypes in Aldolpho’s character – in a superbly over-the-top comic performance – and the Man in the Chair’s descriptive asides about the actor who played the role and believed that he had great artistic talent. McNulty doesn’t quite achieve the same level of excess, but her self-absorbed and, at times, vampish performance acts as a good foil both to Aldolpho and to Janet.

misunderstanding

For the lovers, Kirby is convincing as the not-too-bright multi-millionaire, Robert, with Anderson capturing the lovestruck nature of Janet. They combine perfectly in a further comic misunderstanding involving blindfolds and French accents which leads to Janet ending the engagement.

The drowsy chaperone (Katie McNulty) and dancers. Pic: EMT

However, neither of these plot lines or comic pairings are developed, and the musical becomes more a series of comic set pieces than a cohesive whole.

Other characters, such as Feldzieg and his girlfriend – would-be leading lady Kitty (Kristin Weichen Wong) – are thinly drawn. With little or no added detail about the actors who played the roles, neither McKenna nor Weichen Wong have much to go on. It is a credit to Weichen Wong in particular that she grabs what detail there is and makes it as big as possible.

strengths and weaknesses

The second act opener, Message from a Nightingale, perfectly illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the show as Man in Chair realises he has put the wrong record on and suddenly stops it. As a parody, the song is superb but as part of either the musical or Man in Chair’s story it serves only as a distraction.

The energy and enthusiasm displayed by all of the cast is infectious and Ashleigh Le Cras’s choreography is perfectly executed and a delight to watch. Together these serve to distract from the thinness of the plot. Songs such as Toledo Surprise – led by Lara Dunning and Anna Spence – are performed with gusto and turned into big cast numbers that are great to watch.

All the cast step up for their moment in the limelight. Colin Cairncross as Underling and Caroline Stevenson as Mrs Tottendale are great examples of this. Their duet, Love is Always Lovely in the End is perfectly executed, even while the romance behind it comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.

The feeling that this is a collection of songs and a revue rather than a musical grows stronger the longer the show continues and it falls agonisingly short of what it could have been.

Running time: Two hours and 5 minutes (with one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR.
Wednesday 20 – Saturday 23 April 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Sat mat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Full cast of The Drowsy Chaperone. Pic: EMT

ENDS

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