Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Did Chaperone Keep London's Aging Critics Awake?

Did Chaperone Keep London's Aging Critics Awake?

I must have been caught napping. Or maybe it was the jetlag. Whatever it was, two weeks ago while I was en route to China, the West End version of The Drowsy Chaperone opened to wildly divergent reviews.

Stating that it could be "one of the silliest musicals ever written," the Telegraph 's Charles Spencer apparently loved the show when he caught it on Broadway, but confesses, "Better yet, I enjoyed it even more the second time around, for beyond its inanity, it is also curiously touching....commentary is so witty, his pleasure so palpable, the show itself so delightfully absurd that laughter constantly triumphs over melancholy. The show in fact becomes both a demonstration, and a celebration of theatre's power to transport us out of our own humdrum lives and concerns."

Proclaiming the musical "clever and appealing" in her four-star review, The Times' Sam Marlowe is mostly positive: "Those with a taste for melodic, feelgood nostalgia will find plenty to feast upon in this musical’s breezy, interval-free 100 minutes. But it offers more than that. It’s deceptive: it may look and sound deliciously daft, but beneath the razzmatazz and romance, the slapstick and the sentiment, it’s extremely smart....[T]his musical is an airy confection without much substance."

Calling it an "enjoyably fresh show," along with three out of five stars, is Nicholas de Jongh of the Evening Standard: "It's a rare evening when a musical makes me laugh out loud and often but it happened last night. The Drowsy Chaperone, whose alluring title signals its distinctive character, surprises and delights, thanks to its central conceit....This narration, though rather fuelled by an unpleasant, snide attitude to gay men, becomes the show's prime source of amusement."

Dismissing the production in his two-out-of-five star review, The Guardian's Michael Billington demonstrates why they call them "critics": "The real problem, however, is that the show never knows exactly where to pitch its camp. It also lacks the pinpoint accuracy of true satire: many of its gags, especially the notion of hoodlums translated into song-and-dance men, belong more to the 1930s than the previous decade....At the end of the day, however, one is left asking who the show is for; and the answer, I would guess, are the kind of closeted cognoscenti it seems to be sending up."

Dubbing the show a "very minor work," Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail pans: "The spoofs will soon overtake the genre they are teasing. Therein lies oblivion....I suppose much of it is harmless fun. It is hard to become too cross about it, for on one level it's wholesome and adequately showy....These talents are wasted, though."

Perhaps Brits contemplating a visit to the Novello Theatre to see The Drowsy Chaperone would do well to consider the parting shot of the Telegraph's Spencer -- not at the show, mind you, but at fellow critics: "Only the self-importantly serious and the chronically depressed will fail to enjoy this preposterously entertaining evening."

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
West End Drowsy Chaperone: Another Great Paige Turner (January 19, 2007)
The Drowsy Chaperone (The SOB Review) (October 3, 2006)
Mixed Reviews Tire The Drowsy Chaperone (May 2, 2006)

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