The Drowsy Chaperone | MTCPhotos - Jeff Busby

Bringing with it a raft of recent Broadway awards, and the usual over-the-top New York reviews (inspired! irresistible!! glorious!!!), the MTC’s latest offering, The Drowsy Chaperone, certainly announces itself as some kind of rare and remarkable event. It isn’t, merely a skilled and amusing re-working of some very old conventions. Its cast, band, and staging cannot be faulted, but, in the manner of The Boyfriend, it only brings a world of pastiche, parody and good humour.

In his living room, a musical theatre tragic/obsessive (Geoffrey Rush) drops the needle on an album of a 1920s musical, The Drowsy Chaperone. On the stage we see, the show then comes to life. Basing the show on the recording gives rise to a couple of nice gags; at one point, the needle sticks, so the live performers have to do the same bar over and over. At another, the power goes off and the cast winds down and folds up like a pack of cards.

Geoffrey Rush brings his trademark ease and warmth to his essentially nostalgic role, a character harking back with worn, ironic modern eyes to a supposedly simpler, sunnier time. His fifteen fellow actors are, without exception, skilled and entertaining, and space allows mention only of the ingénues (Alex Rathgreber and Christie Whelan), the frantic best man (Rohan Browne), the absurd Latin lover (Adam Murphy), the producer and his wife (Shane Jacobson and Heidi Arena), and the chaperone herself (Rhonda Burchmore). The tunes are pleasant, without being really memorable, the lyrics smart and singable, but the best moments are probably in the dancing, choreographed by the inventive Andrew Hallsworth. The actors are accompanied throughout by a tight and sympathetic eight-piece band, led by Matthew Frank, Dale Ferguson contributes splendid costumes and set, and the whole thing is directed by Simon Phillips.

A show in this genre does not seek depth, and certainly never achieves it - the glittering surface and incredible performing talents are its sole and saving graces. It will probably succeed, and probably deserves to, but two further comments must be made. It is certainly surprising that, with the writing, performing and production skills the MTC has its disposal, it chooses not to stage an Australian musical (even of half the size). It is, in addition, highly questionable that a major, heavily subsidised company charges almost $100 for a ticket, and for this season has abolished any concession prices whatsoever.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents

Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison | Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar

Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates: 18 January to 27 February 2010 (Season Extended)
Tickets: From $95.00
Bookings: MTC Box Office (03) 8688 0800, | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038 | or 1300 182 183

Most read Melbourne reviews

Master of the deadpan, harsh host of Hard Quiz, and heartless interrogator on Hard Chat, making...

It doesn’t matter how much you know or care about the legality of the Essendon Football Club...

If you’re looking for a show that’s completely different and unlike anything you’ve seen in...

For fans of the musical, the problems and changes to the book and plot of Chess are as familiar...

Swapping 16th Century Verona for 1930s Hollywood, and a lengthy title for the short and snappy...