Posts Tagged ‘Drowsy Chaperone’

Review – Blink Again! (turn on the lights) – Above the Stag Theatre

June 30, 2011

It’s been two times lucky with the Blink series at the Above the Stag theater, and I wasn’t about to miss a chance to see the third round of this series of songs from musicals people loved to hate. The format is songs performed with small intros as to their provenance, enhanced this time with a digital projection showing pictures of the appropriate cast album cover or program.

Unfortunately this round just wasn’t as fresh as it could have been – too many shows were rehashed for my tastes (Grand Hotel, “I Want to Go to Hollywood;” Moby Dick, “A Whale of a Tale;” The Rink, “Colored Lights;” Children of Eden, “Wasteland”), decreasing the sense of discovery and wonder previous productions had imbued. Even the same songs were being rehashed, which I found particularly irritating given my feelings about Drowsy Chaperone‘s “As We Stumble Along.” However, there was a movement toward organanizing the songs in a more thematic way, which led to a pile of fun mocking the Disney enterprise (yes sure Lion King is still going wild but nobody’s crying about the unfortunate fates of Tarzan – represented by “You’ll Be in my Heart” – and the Little Mermaid, “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea”) with new, camp versions well suited to a fringe venue (and didn’t Ashley Martin look fetching in his spotted tunic). We also had a fab disco interlude that hit Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens (“All I Need is Disco,” I forgive them for doing a repeat in this case as the musical itself is so terrible I was thrilled not to have to sit through it), Flashdance (“Gloria”) and 9 to 5 (theme song), ending with the entire cast (men included ) parading around stage in giant blonde wigs. I loved it!

The height of brilliance, though, was in their perfect sendup of Kneehigh Theater’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a show which I enjoyed but was so … misdirected (I think it was overpriced and overlong) that it made it only 40 some performances before closing. They ripped not just the bizarre performance of cabaret performer Meow Meow, but the entire premise of the show … in a manner that seemed to me very Forbidden Broadway-esque. It was all just so fresh it stung … and I loved it. Maybe, I am thinking, that where this show should focus is on the much more recent flops – God only knows I was expecting a mechanical pig to show up on stage any minute – and go for a performance that’s far punchier. The frequent references to another mega-flop (which I’ll keep a secret) made for a gag that kept me giggling all the way through – why not mock Greenland too, and for that matter all of the other shows that deserve a good swift kick for being expensive, badly cast, poorly thought out, and generally a waste of time? Hell, I’d sign up for that! I don’t want to discount the joy of hearing songs from Which Witch (they were great) or Batboy, but if there aren’t enough musicals to stick with the theme, I say change the theme and go for a better show.

Still, it was £14 and I had a good evening, the cast was talented, and the few songs I hated were short. Overall, this was a good evening and I do recommend it to the musical geeks out there.

(This reveiw is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, June 28th, 2011. It continues through July 2nd.)

Review – The Drowsy Chaperone – Upstairs at the Gatehouse

September 28, 2010

I generally speaking like classical musicals. Anyone who reads this will have noted my dislike for Mr. Lloyd Webber (perhaps that’s Sir to you but you’ve got to earn it in my book) and utter failure to see Wicked; Schönberg and Boublil are artisans of dreck in my world. Yet peeking out of the land of desolation that is, to me, the world of musical theater post-Kander and Ebb, is a world of a few twinkling stars, musicals that actually succeed in being entertaining, telling a story, and sending me home with a song in my heart.

High in that constellation of stars is The Drowsy Chaperone, a show that, in its short-lived West End incarnation, proved life-changing for me in some ways (as it convinced me the West End Whingers’ blog was a source of genius tips on what to see, which led to, oh, writing this blog, eventually, and being a part of a “theater blogging community”); but which, most importantly, filled my head full of wonderful memories of sequins, tap dancing, high kicks (Summer Strallen!), and songs I’ve sung to myself ever since. I went twice in two weeks; I bought the soundtrack; I bought the t-shirt (“Oops Girl”); I went online and bought the monkey (probably best you not ask). I was sorry when it closed (prematurely, in my mind) and have spent a lot of time wondering why such a witty, musical show failed to find an audience when it had me crying in my Cosmopolitan; bad publicity, I think, was the cause. Still, it was a brilliant show and I will regularly pop the show disc in when I need a little pick-me-up.

Cue this summer and news that the Upstairs at the Gatehouse pub theater was remounting Drowsy. It seemed odd to me that a show so big and so new would be coming to such a small space (more recently home to Calamity Jane). Could it do it justice? Well, I wasn’t going to be TOO picky; I loved the show, I was desperate to see it again, so I paid my money and headed on down a day or so after opening night hoping for the best.

The show was, in some ways, more engaging than the original version I’d seen; the “man in chair” (Matthew Lloyd Davies), who spends the show explaining to the audience why he is so fond of this “silly 20s musical” The Drowsy Chaperone, really looks at and talks to the audience and even gets them (er, us) to respond. The dance routines (the big ones being the tap-dancing “Cold Feet” and “I Don’t Wanna Show Off No More”) were, if less impressive in their execution, rather exhilirating in being just a few feet away (though the Novello, of course, was able to put in an Underling (Ted Merwood) who could tap dance as well as the two young men who lead “Cold Feet”).

Best of all was, shockingly enough, Adolfo (Michael Howe). He was right in the audience – possibly in some women’s laps at some point and practically with his nose down their shirts – even at the very beginning, to hysterical result. He put me off a bit (well, got a laugh for an accident) when he slipped while leaning on his cane in his first scene – but then completely topped that by falling flat out when he came racing out from a door and his cape was caught behind him. I thought it was just bad luck, but then I realized: they were all pratfalls! It was part of the comedic Adolfo personality. He just pushed the character right on over the top and let him, well, “keep falling” as it were, with great results. Last I saw this show he was a throwaway stereotype; in the Gatehouse version, Adolfo upped the game for everybody else, outshining not just the Chaperone (Siobhan McCarthy in a role I can’t image how to make more interesting – it’s just kind of flat) but even little Miss Showoff herself, Janet Vandergraaf (Amy Diamond).

While Alolfo’s falls could eventually be ascribed to comic genius, other elements seem to speak of a certain cheapness I associate with fringe theater. Janet’s first “Showoff” costume, a tennis outfit, was poorly joined at the back and left half of her black-satin rump exposed – while I realized she needed a quick change outfit, all of the costuming money for the show should really have been blown on her character and having this particular outfit so … halfassed really detracted from the effect of this scene (and I think wouldn’t have cost too much to fix). Ursula Mohan as Mrs Tottendale seemed timid rather than ditzy; during the “spray” scene she merely misted Underling, and during the second act she had … was it toliet paper on her shoe? I couldn’t decide if it were an effect or an accident given the whole Adolfo thing. And finally, while “Trix the Aviatrix” made a wonderful entrance in her tiny airplane in act one, her actual appearence … via a television … at the end of the second act utterly mystified me. Did Sophia Nomvete just not want to waste a whole evening on a ten minute scene, or was the Gatehouse too cheap to pay her to sit around? I mean, it was done well enough (the character stayed on the screen for the entire “freeze” during the power outage), but … it just seemed a little bit off to me somehow. And by “off” I mean cheap.

Still, the overall effect of this show was very good, taking full advantage of an intimate space and a fantastic show to make a good night of theater. I absolutely feel it was worth £16 and consider it a “must see” for this fall’s London theater scene for the musicals fan. Who cares about The Donmar Warehouse: get thee to the Gatehouse for Drowsy Chaperone!

(This review is for a performance that took place Saturday night, September 25th, 2010. The show continues through October 31st, 2010. Please see

Review – A Little Night Music – Menier Chocolate Factory

December 3, 2008

Last night I headed off with my uncle, J and Sue to see A Little Night Music at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Now, I approached this whole show with some considerable misgivings, chief among them that, though I am a big fan of musicals, I do not care for Sondheim. I base this on seeing two of his works and finding them not very good (“Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd”) and the fact that I generally find his music “tweedley” and just generally not very hummable. Me, I want to walk out of a show singing something, like I did for “Drowsy Chaperone” and “Anything Goes,” but Sondheim doesn’t really leave me with a single memorable musical moment … it’s just kind of noise, like modern operas, though not to the extent that I want to stick an icepick in my ears like I did for “Pierrot Lunaire.”

My second major misgiving was that this whole thing was directed by Trevor Nunn. Now, chances are that if you know anything about musical theater, you’ve probably heard his name before. Unfortunately for me he is forever linked with “Les Mis,” which is stuck in my memory as the very first time I realized a musical could be complete crap. Nowadays I realize that pretty much anything can get hyped beyond all realms of belief and yet still be a steaming pile of poo, but twenty or so years ago this came to me as a tremendous shock. So I figured that once again I was likely to be signing myself up for something that was overdesigned beyond all belief and also hollow at the core.

Well, okay, there was one reason that I did not absolutely believe that this would be the case, and thus bought the tickets in the first place, and this was because this show was being produced at the Menier. Now, my first visit to the Menier was a bit of a disaster; the show (“Playing Our Song”) was a turkey and I left the theater with huge scrapes on my knees from the overly close seating arrangement. However, I loved the space; intimate as all get out (a bit much so in regards to the other audience members) and a really amazing place to watch people singing big songs to you from ten feet away. I’ve also been pretty impressed by the Menier’s record at getting its shows transferred elsewhere; while I can’t imagine why I’d ever bother with “Sunday in the Park with George” (as transferred to Broadway) its “La Cage,” now on the West End, is apparently quite the thing, and I thought that chances were better than not that this would be a good show and I’d be pleased to say “I saw it when” etc.

But then of course there was the Sondheim angle. Bit of a roll of the dice, eh, but the tickets were bought, and, if nothing else, my uncle was quite pleased to be going to see this show while he was visiting, and, well, the company would be good, so my fingers were crossed.

New to this trip was an Assigned Seating System (woo!) which ensured we could actually relax with our dinner and glasses of port at the Boot and Flogger prior to the show, all the while knowing we’d not have to sit in the row with the four inch wide aisle because we had seats waiting for us. Hurray! Unfortunately, “front row” meant “in the seats designed for people who are under five feet tall,” as we were ridiculously low to the ground and spent the whole time watching the show from over the top of our knees. Oh well, at least we had leg room – though we were a bit worry we might trip up the performers.

The show itself was actually a quite interesting little frippery (based on a Bergman movie – one of the happy ones, apparently) about a middle aged man wedded to an 18 year old girl (Anne Egerman, played by Jessie Buckley), who have an unconsummated marriage; he is attracted to a lush actress (named Desiree, my!) with whom he had a liason some years back, while his religious son is in love with the wife (who’s much closer to his age) and hating himself for it. All of this contained sexual energy goes wild when the unhappy family is invited to the actress’ country house for the weekend, at which point the play suddenly turns into one of those Shakespearean comedies of errors in which all true lovers are united at the end and we are sent home with smiles on our faces.

So there I was, hunched in my front row seat, watching these people sing and dance close enough to me that I could see the wrinkles on their faces (except for the 18 year old, whom appears to be actually … well, 19), listening very closely to the music and laughing at the clever libretto (who’d ever think to use “Titian” as a rhyme with “Venetian?”), and I realized … I was actually enjoying myself. Sure, I couldn’t stand Desiree Armfeldt’s (Hannah Waddingham’s) hairdo, which was too “1960s sex goddess,” and the miked voices made me want to tear my OWN hair out, and the actress’ aged 10 or so daughter was just verging on nauseatingly cute and precocious (though I did admire her for singing with so much hair in her mouth – was it all about the hair for me?), and my uncle was gagging a bit on the cigar smoke in Act Two – but wasn’t it all just rather lovely, with the simple, yet effective sets, the 100% professional cast practically sitting in my lap, the very interesting and believable characters? I mean, wasn’t it pretty much the whole package other than some niggling bits?

Anyway, by the intermission I’d perked up quite a bit, and by the end of the show I was thinking, well, who knows, maybe this Sondheim guy isn’t so bad after all. Maybe the fact it was a community college cast I saw performing “Into the Woods” affected how I feel about it. Maybe … maybe Sondheim is a taste best appreciated with age. When I found myself comparing the libretto to Cole Porter’s work, it did make me think I’d turned a corner. At any rate, it was a good evening out, and I do very much encourage people to take themselves down to Southwark and catch this show – it’s on for three months so you should have a bit more luck than you would at the typical Donmar production.

(This review is for a performance on Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008. For a far more thorough review, please read the West End Whingers, who got a lot of benefit out of buying a program. Too bad I could find so little information about the cast on the Menier’s site – perhaps they’re shy.)

Summer Strallen insulted in OK Magazine

July 10, 2008

Ever since I saw The Drowsy Chaperone, Summer Strallen has been at the top of my list of “top actresses to see in a West End musical.” The way she kicks! The way she sings! She’s the whole package, the triple threat, and she’s really a treat to see on stage. I mean, I have never seen a show twice in a week, but I went back just to see her (and because the show was closing).

Once Drowsy closed I looked around online, hoping to find news of her returning to the stage (when? where?), but I had a long wait as she’d pulled some TV work (no luck seeing her in a panto last year, boo!). Then she got the role of Maria in Sound of Music (not West Side Story, boo again), which, well, was kind of good because it put her back on stage, but also bad because, well, it’s not exactly a role requiring a lot of dancing so it’s a waste of her tremendous talent (and it’s, er, The Sound of Music, so not something I’m particularly interested in seeing).

That said, I was excited to see an article about her in trashy rag Ok Magazine (which for some reason we have a copy of in my office’s breakroom). It was “Summer in summer wear” or something fluffy like that, basically a fashion spread, with Summer looking lovely in floral frocks.

However, I found the article made OK Magazine look really bad, as the very first sentence in it is, “Going from soap actress to stage star isn’t the most likely of paths …”

WHAT??? Was that a misprint? What Summer did was go from stage star to soap actress! But no, per OK, it seems that Summer’s life began when she got a job on a TV show. There is not a word of her earlier work anywhere in the article, not even about her turn in Dick Whittington at the Barbican. Perhaps this is some kind of sop to the OK readers, whom OK assumes must not do much besides watch TV, but I found it insulting to Summer as a theater professional that OK would wipe out her entire career by pretending it all started when she got a job on a soap opera. Summer did mention that she’s not getting to do any dancing, really, in her current show, which might indicate to some that perhaps there are other talents going on besides singing and acting … perhaps a hint of an earlier life … but no, nothing. At least the pictures looked great, and Summer sounded tremendously more classy than most of the women they were featuring in the magazine, but the questions! “Are you terribly critical about your looks, what kind of wedding do you fantasize about …” What kind of airhead reads this rag anyway? I wished they’d asked her some better questions but I still felt her personality came through, and she sounded really level headed. Who knows, maybe the interviewer was unimaginative.

That said, I was also sorry to read that Summer’s going to continue on in Sound of Music until February 2009. Gah, what a waste! This girl needs a role in a show where she can do some dancing again! Although I’m happy to see her continuously employed, I’d much rather have a chance to see her in a show where she can really show her stuff … say in Anything GoesWest Side StorySweet Charity

Review – Drowsy Chaperone (London)

July 25, 2007

Drowsy Chaperone was a great show, played in a very meta-way with its commenting narrator and self-consciously zany, with great dancing, fun costumes, and silly songs. It was also short (no intermission) and got us home early. I’m a bit sorry I didn’t see it earlier in the run but the cast energy seemed really good and I’m planning on recommending people go see it.

(This review is for a performance on July 25th, 2007.)