While we were in London last week, PJ and I saw two musicals and a play: The Drowsy Chaperone, Mary Poppins, and In Celebration. Last year, we saw three really great productions in London: A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Regent’s Park, The Seagull at the National, and Billy Elliot the Musical. So we had high hopes for this year’s trip. Unfortunately, we were mostly disappointed.

Let’s start with the good: The Drowsy Chaperone was excellent. The musical centers on the Man in the Chair, a middle aged theater queen (yes, he’s a theater queen regardless of whether he’s gay or straight) who plays the cast album of his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, a fictional musical that comes to life as he listens to the album.

The production stars one of its creators, Bob Martin, who won a Tony Award for its book. He fills the part perfectly. He imbues the Man in the Chair with both humor and pathos, a difficult task to pull off. As the production progresses, we learn more about the Man, who serves as both leading man and narrator. What distinguishes this musical is its postmodern crossovers between the Man in the Chair and the inner musical. He both narrates the action and, because it is taking place in his little apartment, takes part in it (to a degree). Rather than being gimmicky, this back and forth really works.

Here’s a brief glimpse of the musical and a discussion about it from London t.v.:

As this clip points out, the show is ironic and depicts the characteristics of 1920s musicals in both a loving and satiric way. We see their sexism, racism, and (to a degree) homophobia at the same time that we see why someone might love them. This is a musical that loves musicals even while it can point out some of their flaws.

The London star of the show is Elaine Paige, famous (in part) for originating such roles as Grisabella the Glamor Cat in Cats, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, and Eva Peron in Evita on the London stage. She is a hoot in the title role, the chaperone who is tasked with keeping the bride away from the groom until their wedding ceremony, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that she gets drowsy when she drinks and she drinks like she’s Karen Walker‘s best drinking buddy.