Thursday, October 25, 2012


Brentwood Operatic Society at Brentwood Theatre

Follies, of course, Forbidden Broadway, and, my favourite, Songbook, by Monty Norman [the "record" is on my shelves, man in the armchair, is it on yours ?}. They're all more or less affectionate spoofs of the great American musical. But none is as clever, or as spiritedly witty, as The Drowsy Chaperone.

The unique feature of this glorious pastiche is the framing device of a Broadway anorak – a very recognizable type, I'm sure I used to know this guy – sitting in his lonely apartment with his spider plant and his record player. In Jacob Allan's cheerfully camp production for Brentwood Operatic we have Ian Southgate, scarcely middle-aged, but otherwise perfect as the apologist for this 1920s froth. He helps with the plot, gives footnotes on the stars, mouths the words, and gets more and more involved in the cheesy routines. And along the way reveals a little of his own life.
The show – his first love, though he's never seen it live, is this delicious confection, whipped up to a traditional recipe. You'll recognize the ingredients: mistaken identities, dream sequences, spit takes, a Broadway impresario and his Follies, a suave British butler, comic gangsters, an airhead chorus girl. He plays the LP, a gift from his mother, and the performance comes to life before our eyes, right there in his room.
The performers successfully recreated the feel and the falseness of the genre. The Chaperone herself, glass in hand, wearing the second worst wig, was perfectly embodied by Nina Jerram – her rousing anthem to alcoholism a highlight of a constantly delightful production. The bride and groom were Juliet Thomas and Samuel Cousins – his dance duo with Best Man Dan Glock was impressively done. Amongst many other memorable creations, space only to mention the unlikely pairing of Mandi Threadgold-Smith and Jordon Cox as the gangster pastrycooks, Martin Harris as the Latin Lover, and Rebecca Toft outstanding in the relatively small role of the Aviatrix. The MD was Jonathan Sands.
We never quite forget that this is a show in one geek's mind. His kitchen cupboard conceals props, his bed is pressed into service, his LP skips a groove and a power cut spoils the climax. "I should start again from the beginning …" he muses. And such was the feel-good magic of the piece and the production [the absence of a tap routine the only disappointment], we'd have been quite happy for him to do just that...

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