Performing before a full house this weekend past, the 3rd year students of WAAPA’s Music Theatre class showed they had talent in spades, with soaring vocals layered over high-kicks, ribbon-twirling, tap dance and the Charleston.
Driven by an unnamed narrator, Ashley Roussety excellently portrays the self-consciously anxious, nostalgic divorcee who puts on a recording of his favourite production (a fictional musical from 1928 called The Drowsy Chaperone) and has the Roaring Twenties come to life within his apartment. Host and guide to this piece of Broadway extravaganza, he shatters the fourth wall with his first utterances, often interjecting the narrative and jarring you back from the the grandeur of 1920s New York to his world, delivering commentary on the action or tidbits about the fictional actors and actresses supposedly performing directly to the audience.
Stephanie Wall plays Janet Van De Graff, a famed showgirl giving up stardom for love. Supposedly tired of celebrity, she is torn between her ‘whoozy’ love for the son of an oil-magnate (Robert Martin) and her life of adoration. The doddering Mrs. Tottendale and her long-suffering servant Underling play host to this celebration of careless love, and high-jinks occur within the confines of her mansion.
In an act of cold feet, Robert Martin (played by Matthew Manahan) questions the authenticity of his simple love, but the true B plot is the efforts of Janet’s producer Feldzeig (Andre Drysdale) to stop the wedding, keep his star performer and avoid running afoul of the gangsters – posing as bakers – who think his show will go bust without her. Trailed by Kitty, a showgirl who dreams of stepping from the chorus to become a leading lady, Feldzeig enlists the simmering, self-absorbed European lover Adolpho (Jason Arrow) to bed Janet and ruin the wedding. Instead, Adolpho comes a cropper of the cynical, titular chaperone (Stefanie Caccamo) who disinterestedly saunters her way through the production, highball in hand.
Unashamedly light-hearted fun, this highly entertaining musical within a musical #inception, plays upon the tropes of the genre. It’s self-aware and all very easy to follow, a highly stylised musical almost for the sake of simply sharing the music, colour and glamour of musicals. The songs themselves are trite and full of laboured metaphors, but this is all part of the game. Roussety’s character is the first to grimace, and also the first to point out that you enjoy the songs just the same.
Outrageously funny, the subtle quips flow seamlessly from the slick, smooth-talking delivery. So while the laughs connected with the audience, they never got a raucous response because everyone was scurrying to keep up.
Finally, I must commend the choreographer, the designers and the orchestra for their marvelous work. With set and costume design torn straight form the pages of the Roaring Twenties, the cast of nineteen were supported by a whole host of talent in the production team.
Words by Samuel J. Cox
Images by Jon Green
The Drowsy Chaperone runs at WAAPA’s Geoff Gibbs Theatre until March 19. Tickets available here.