A rollerblading groom, a bride who craves the spotlight, and a man in a chair who longs to hear their story—MUSE’s Drowsy Chaperone is nothing short of pure and unadulterated joy, an ode to those who find happiness in the theatre.
Rob Hartley’s directorial debut brings to the forefront a real and honest story about mental illness. We’re introduced to the Man in the Chair (Tom Crotty), a middle aged, self-confessed ‘blue’ figure clad in bed socks and a dressing gown. He asks the audience if we would indulge his escapism, and puts on his favourite record. Yes, a vinyl record—the soundtrack of the fictional 1928 musical The Drowsy Chaperone—which becomes a vehicle for a brilliant and decadent, trope-heavy musical that whisks us away from the depressing and bland apartment and throws us into the roaring 1920s.
It’s hard not to relate to the giddiness of the Man in the Chair, who steals the show as he becomes a verifiable human Wikipedia, pausing the record to comment on his favourite scenes and lip-syncing to the jazzy tunes as the show transforms from his imagination into the apartment. As the show goes on, fourth-wall bending distractions break his imagination: his phone rings, the record skips, and reality bleeds into the fantastical show to his dismay.
His distress is valid, any moment that distracts from the energetic storyline of the fictional musical becomes an example of how theatre can be a cure for the sadness of modern life, which is why the show doesn’t have an interval. The production deals with the main character’s worsening mental state in the wake of a failed marriage through the stark contrast between the drab, dreary apartment and the delightful love story that takes place within it.
It’s easy to escape within the world of The Drowsy Chaperone. The love story between Broadway darling Janet Van De Graafff (Maree Cole) and Robert Martin (Jerome Studdy) is enchanting. The actors play off each other just as well as they play their character’s individual traits. Studdy displays a multitude of talents throughout the show, rollerblading blindfolded across the stage in one scene and tap dancing alongside best man George (Todd Emmett) in the next, an act that feels reminiscent of the trick-up-the-sleeve approach of musicals from another era.
The show has some of the best accents in student theatre, with the Latin lover Aldolpho (Michael Kaufmann) and failing producer Mr Feldzieg (Eamon Moses) adding mischief to the wedding party, alongside a boozy chaperone (Christie New). You can tell the entire cast are having as much fun on stage as the audience is watching.
This wasn’t a show I expected to tear up in. But there’s something heartfelt about being invited into the world of a much-loved musical. Despite some opening night jitters (standard mic issues and lighting misses) and an acknowledgement of whitewashing and the portrayal of racial stereotypes in theatre, this production will make you feel more in love with musicals than ever before.