REVIEW: A joyful blast from the past

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE

Presented by: Company Clegg

Venue: Civic Playhouse, Newcastle

Season: Ended yesterday

THIS musical was a delightful way for Newcastle theatregoers to end the year.

And it was a fitting finale for Hunter TAFE's graduating acting students, with their skills giving vivid life to a demanding work.

The Drowsy Chaperone is subtitled A Musical Within a Comedy, and it shows an unnamed elderly man talking about his love for musicals and especially that of the (fictional) 1928 title work as he listens to an old vinyl recording of its songs.

The show and its characters come alive as he shares his memories, treating the audience to a recreation of 1920s musicals that is both affectionate and tongue-in-cheek.

The musical's plot centres on the coming marriage of a female Broadway star to the son of an oil millionaire and the desperate attempts of her producer to prevent the marriage after he is threatened by gangsters working for the main investor in his shows.

The investor fears he'll lose his money if the star goes through with her intention to quit show business when she weds.

The writing team has cleverly put musical theatre cliché after cliché into the work, including mistaken identities, dream sequences, an unflappable English butler, comic gangsters and a ditzy chorine, and made it great fun - fun that director David Brown, the 16 actors and the production team really brought out.

They did this despite the fact that they had to forgo, in the intimate Playhouse space, the script's call for scenic trappings such as painted backdrops.

Kane Gavin was an engaging host as the musical lover, with his comments gradually revealing why the show meant so much to him.

Georgina Hardy, as bride-to-be Janet, had a lively scene which begins with her telling reporters why she's giving up show business, and develops into a big production number that raises questions about whether she'll be able to keep to her intention.

She subsequently had a warmly amusing scene and duet, Accident Waiting to Happen, with Matt Graham's blindfolded and roller skate-wearing elegant groom, Robert, in which she pretended to be a French woman, Mimi, to test his fidelity.

The plot featured some other engaging pairings, including Gabriella Stevens as the absent-minded wedding hostess and previous TAFE acting graduate David Fenwick as her ever-so-proper butler, Underling, doing a big ballad, Love is Always Lovely in the End. Then there was Hilary Park as Spanish lothario Aldolpho gushingly wooing Bridget Glennie's willing chaperone in the mistaken belief that she is Janet, and two first-year acting students, Jack Gow as the desperate producer Feldzieg and Carmen Ormeno Vittoriano as showgirl Kitty who wants to take over Janet's starring role.

Glennie had a loudly applauded solo, As We Stumble Along, and Park's I Am Aldolpho was a hilarious send-up of Latin lovers.

Sam Davies was a suitably befuddled best man, Megan Elizabeth Kennedy a soaring-voiced aviatrix, and Rachel Sara Bailey, Cordelia Hamilton-Russell, Sally Beer, James Chapman and Stephanie McDonald gave menacing fun to the gangsters disguised as cooks.

Gabby O'Connor's 1920s costumes, Jo Ford's choreography and Annabella Redman's singing direction added to the splendour.

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