Behind the scenes of Appeal Theatre Group’s The Drowsy Chaperone at the New Wolsey
PUBLISHED: 12:03 22 June 2015 | UPDATED: 09:49 23 June 2015
A man settles into his chair to listen to his favourite record, a fictitious 1928 musical.
Springing to life around him, we’re drawn into a farce about a couple set to wed, their bumbling best man, the theatre producer desperate to stop the wedding, a not too bright hostess, two gangsters posing as pastry chefs, a misguided Latin lothario and The Drowsy Chaperone who gives this comedy musical its name. Entertainment writer Wayne Savage finds out more
“The show’s already running and we’ve got another five rehearsals to go; I’m the director and I’m obsolete now,” laughs John Whelton of Appeal Theatre Group, only half joking as rehearsals continue apace on stage as we chat.
He’s full of praise for his team - the professional band, musical director Jo King, choreographer Suzie Lowe, the professional backstage crew and of course his cast.
“All directors direct in different ways, if you direct the way I do... You explain how you want it done, then you have to leave them to get on with it, express it (and) oh crikey yeah, we’ve got a good team.”
Written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison; the musical within a comedy won five Tony awards including best original score in 2006. Billed as a musical within a comedy; The Drowsy Chaperone is an affectionate send-up of the jazz age musical featuring one show stopping song and dance number after another.
“Who would’ve thought of producing a musical in which there aren’t two main protagonists but someone focused in the middle. Reminiscing about his record collection, he (The Man) talks the audience through what’s happening on stage, his own opinions about the general state of the theatre, his likes and dislikes and so forth. You’re linking the two things which you normally wouldn’t - the audience and the cast. They directly communicate with each other and you’ve got this man in the middle. It’s a very funny part.
“Him reminiscing, that’s the emotional part; it’s musical the way he describes it. It’s interspersed with a very loose story that captures all the musicals (of the era), it doesn’t matter which musical you want to talk about.
“There’s a man and a woman, they fall in love, go through some trials and tribulations and at the end they end up together. You know it’s almost like a piece of music which starts with chord one and ends with chord one, with several chords in the middle,” he laughs.
Madcap doesn’t begin to describe The Drowsy Chaperone.
At the heart of the tale are pending groom Robert Martin and bride-to-be Janet Van-de-Graffe plan to wed at the English estate of Mrs Tottendale, who’s tottering around and being attended to by her butler Underling.
Robert’s contending with his angst-ridden best man George, while stage star Janet’s being “cared” for by the titular drowsy chaperone who, says Whelton tactfully, isn’t a gin-soaked sot but enjoys a beverage.
Problems occur in the shape of Janet’s agent, the producer Feldzeig who’s worried about losing his meal ticket and the two gangsters chasing him. Then there’s ditsy would-be showgirl Kitty who’ll do anything to make sure the wedding goes off with a hitch.
“It’s a send-up but it’s a very nice (send-up); there’s no nastiness in it at all nothing at all, even the heavies and Feldzeig,” says Whelton.
The musical was first performed in Toronto, Canada, in 1997, before moving to New York and then London.
“It got good reviews but the audiences, for some reason, didn’t take to it; and it’s not been done a lot in England certainly not by amateur companies. Sometimes English shows, musicals, don’t do well in America and American shows don’t do wonderfully over here; I think the reason is because the humour is sometimes a bit obscure either way.
“As we were saying, you’ve got these wonderful musical numbers - 17 of them - which all rip-roar along, wonderful duets, solos what have you and they all poke fun in some way or the other. If you want to get away from all this austerity and God knows what that’s going on in the world at the moment or if you’re feeling a bit down come along and be entertained - that’s what theatre is about.”
The Drowsy Chaperone runs at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre from June 24-27. Proceeds will be shared by The Ipswich Hospital Charity and The Sunrise Appeal.
Read my review online Wednesday night.
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