The Drowsy Chaperone – Church Hill Theatre

Book By Bob Martin and Don McKellar

Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison

Directed by Jo Heinemeier

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A quiet evening with brandy and our favourite record – idyllic, no? Why, for this Man in the Chair, that’s the regular course of an evening spent listening to his favourite musical – perhaps you’ve heard of it, The Drowsy Chaperone?

After forty years of delivering damn fine performances to the people of the Lothians, the Edinburgh Music Theatre company return after their cancelled run of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with a corker of a neo-classic musical, a show-within-a-show The Drowsy Chaperone. Leading the charge from their armchair, Ian Fallon is, quite bluntly, a wonder to watch. Capturing the essence of the role, slipping in their quirks and mannerisms to the character effortlessly. Recounting the musical they adore, but have never seen, the Man in the Chair may be our narrator and guide in this humorous romp, but Fallon’s performance channels such drive and adoration that it’s difficult to not follow his journey, and feel the pang of hurt as his story unfolds.

With a week of rehearsal for the role, stepping in for April Kinder, who was originally due to play the role of Janet van de Graff, one would never have thought Chole Anderson was ever apart from the character. From her initial strut onto to stage, to the crowd-pleasing rendition of Show Off, Anderson captures the sweetness of the role – but maintains the stage diva hidden beneath the false humility, a woman desperately in love but aware of her self-worth. Her work within the company is sound, sharing genuine chemistry with Cameron Kirby, and back and forth routine with Chaperone Katie McNulty.

Though the titular character, McNulty’s presence is somewhat reserved initially, coming into a more significant role later in the show – to tremendous praise and appreciation from the audience. Calm, composed, and with their sights set on precisely what they want – McNulty is a delight, radiating a presence of ol’ tinsel town, a class rarely seen by contemporaries, and an attitude to match. Her timing alongside foppish fool Aldolpho (Andrew Hally) makes for a pleasant surprise, as the two characters with significant potential to fail become showstoppers, magnifying their roles larger and large, becoming more and more ridiculous and entertaining as the night progresses.

But hearts will be won by our comedic foils – whether the woefully underappreciated Underling or quite possibly the worst gangsters pastry chefs the world has seen. Colin Cairncross’ aggressive energy, flipped from the mild-mannered belligerent Underling, generates the largest laughs of the evening and demonstrates Ashleigh le Cras’ choreography to the letter. While Lara Dunning and Anna Spence capture the entire presence of the show: absurdity, joy, and busting with vim and vigour.

And principal issues with the production lay at the hands of the twenty-plus years since inception – and while both Fallon and director Jo Heinemeier make leaps forward in the accessibility and taste of the show, distractions are present, taking away from the overall pacing. As Act II opens with the traditional mix-up of shows, the snippet we receive of the Message from a Nightingale sequence is met with the expectant discomfort and anxious laughter of Asian stereotypes and accents. Not to the discredit of EMT, who manages to channel the humour and commentary of musical theatre’s less tasteful history, but elements could be remarked upon further or played with deeper.

It also lets down talented performers like Kristen Weichen Wong or Caroline Stevenson, the former bounding with energy and promise, but is locked within the limits of the production’s original writing of the role. We garner a brief snippet of her vocals in Act II but feel there’s something further to explore – a richer talent at hand. But audio glips aside, Matthew Brown’s musical direction is largely spot-on, leading the live band with a send-off of the jazz classics with poise, rebuilding the shortcomings of any problem vocals.

If you leave the show still humming a tune, or chuckling at a joke – fret not, you’re not ‘drowsy’ but just under the influence of EMT’s deceptive charm and long-standing presence. Striking out with sepia-tinted nostalgic numbers and aesthetics, EMT captures the wittier thought-process of the show, enabling cast members to lean more into the escapist world-building found in those silly musicals with their gooey gowns and dopey dancers. A succinct love letter to the genre, with some keen performances and hopefuls, The Drowsy Chaperone is anything but sleepy – overflowing its goblet with talent, amusement, and comradery.  

The Drowsy Chaperone runs at the Church Hill Theatre until April 23rd.
Tickets for which can be obtained here.

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