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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Novello

By Clive Hirschhorn

  Elaine Paige/Ph: Catherine Ashmore

When the West End's newest Broadway import, The Drowsy Chaperone, opened a couple of weeks ago, some of the national newspaper critics complained that they couldn't see to whom the show would appeal.

It doesn't take rocket science to enlighten them, Its appeal is to the same audiences who enjoyed Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend or any traditional twenties musical in which the songs were better than the plot.

An affectionate look back in nostalgia to the anything-goes world of Jerome Kerns, de Sylva, Brown and Henderson and Vincent Youmans, Chaperone, with a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, concocts a flim-flam flimsy plot in which several types of twenties show tunes are gleefully parodied and pastiched.

The story line, in which a Broadway producer( Nick Holder) tries to prevent his leading lady( Summer Strallen) from marrying a handsome society lad( John Partridge) and abandoning the theatre, comes complete with all the familiar trimmings.

There's an obligatory sub-plot involving an amorous Spaniard( Joseph Alcssi), a pair of pantomome villains-cum-pastry-chefs(Adam Stafford, Cameron Jack), more comic relief in the form of a hostess( Anne Rogerts) and her butler( Nickolas Grace) and the drowsy chaperone herself( Elaine Paige) who truth to tell, contributes zilch to the overall proceedings, except to give the show its rather off-putting title.

Central to the proceeding, and playing no part at all in the show-within- the-show is co-author Bob Martin, a Broadway musical-comedy queen, known simply as Man In Chair, whose own particular brand of Prozac whenever he feels blue, is to play an LP of one of his favorite shows- a 1920's hit called The Drowsy Chaperone.

As he wittily comments on each track and provides biographical material on the performers, the musical is joyfully brought to life and re-enacted in his dreary New York apartment, much to his (and our) all-involving delight.

If Martin is Chaperone's heart and soul, Summer Strallen as musical-comedy star Janet Van de Graaf, superbly following in the high-kick footsteps of Sutton Foster, her Broadway counterpart, provides glitz, glamour and pizazz as the Broadway ingenue about to give up the bright lights for domesticity.

In the show-stopping number "Show Off," Ms. Strallen insists she no longer wishes to be the center of attention. But, as she cartwheels, twirls plates, does the splits, signs autographs, poses for the press, sings while drinking a glass of water, and completes several quick changes, she stops the show cold by being just that.

In a cast as good and in some cases better, than their Broadway originals, John Partridge is perfect as Janet's handsome fiancee, though Elaine Paige, as if to compensate for her underwritten role, mugs far too much for comfort.

And although the score isn't in the same league as The Boy Friend, it's certainly evocative of the era and has enough catchy tunes to keep your toes tapping.

There are some glaring anachronisms. The phase to die for doesn't belong in the roaring twenties, nor, in the same period, were there original cast recordings of Broadway shows. That didn't happen until Oklahoma in 1943.

In the London production, Bob Martin's Man In Chair acknowledges this by saying the recording was made during The Drowsy Chaperone's run (at the Strand, now renamed the Novello). But that wouldn't have been the case either.

True, certain hit numbers were recorded on 78rpm acetate discs, but never the complete score, and certainly never any of the dialo


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