Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Mar 14 – Apr 6, 2014
Book: Bob Martin, Don McKellar
Music and Lyrics: Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison
Director: Jay James-Moody
Choreography: Monique Sallé
Musical Direction: Paul Geddes
Actors: Jay James-Moody, Gael Ballantyne, Chris Coleman, Emma Cooperthwaite, Anna Freeland, Hilary Cole, Brett O’Neill, Ross Chisari, Laurence Coy, Steven Kreamer, Richard Woodhouse, Jaimie Leigh Johnson, Tom Sharah, Monique Sallé, Michele Lansdown
The Drowsy Chaperone is a brilliantly written musical. It is also a hilarious comedy with intelligently sharp and sophisticated humour that does not underestimate its audience. The show’s concepts and structure are original. Considering the usually restrictive genre, the writers have been able to create something that feels refreshing, yet maintain a classic musical formula that is perennially appealing.
The cast is a fairly large one, but the undoubted star of the production is Jay James-Moody, who plays “Man in chair”, a narrator of sorts who functions as our sometimes tipsy chaperone, guiding us through his favourite musical. James-Moody is also director of the work, and does a good job assembling and crafting the many elements of his creation, but his achievement as performer here is outstanding. His humour is subtle and precise, with a very thorough grasp of the vacillations and nuances in the writing. His connection with the audience is impeccably strong. James-Moody addresses the audience directly and is required to take control of all our reactions to almost everything that unfolds on stage. It is a very tall order but he delivers at every point, and in unbelievably fabulous form.
Hilary Cole as Janet van de Graaf impresses with a beautiful and versatile singing voice. Her role is a demanding one, and she delivers on many fronts but some of the choreography exposes her shortcomings. Cole’s work is full of conviction, and she looks very much the part, but can sometimes introduce too much fragility into her characterisation. Her fiancé Robert Martin is played by Brett O’Neill who has created a character that seems to be magically transported from the 1920s. It is a performance that is authentic and meticulously studied. O’Neill is delightful in the genre, with a strong singing voice and confident execution of choreography. Ross Chisari is slight of frame and plays a smaller role, but leaves a substantial impression. He is by far the strongest dancer in the cast, and has a surprisingly strong voice that belts out some of the most powerful notes in the show. Chisari has many qualities that would see him thrive in the field for all the decades to come.
In its final moments, the show takes a swipe at blockbuster musicals like Cats and Les Misérables. Indeed, The Drowsy Chaperone is not for every Tom, Dick, Harry and their 8 year-old children. It doesn’t operate on a level of simple sentimentality and doesn’t rely on unthinking emotion to hit its mark. This is a supremely entertaining show that appeals with its clever humour, but may need its crowd to have some level of cultured awareness. It is also a show about our love of performance. “Man in chair” has an obsession for stage performers in his record collection, and this production gives us many reasons to be enthralled in our seats, amused and awestruck.