I've been a long time patron of UMMTA shows and historically the production quality has been what one would expect from student theatre. Minimal sets, simple costumes and passionate actors. UMMTA's Drowsy Chaperone has set a clear bench mark for what this company can achieve. It's a production that welcomes the company into a new age of student theatre. The show is slick, beautifully presented and above all, has a real heart at its core.
When you enter the theatre, you are struck with a set piece that does not look 'student theatre' at all. A great representation of a simplistic, clean American apartment which later reveals very clever entrance and exit passages (I won't spoil them for you.) The use of this set is very impressive. Clever, without being obnoxious and complimented some very comedic highlights throughout the show.
For those not familiar with this very underrated musical, the show is lead by a 'Man in Chair' character who semi narrates his way through his favourite cast recording - 'The Drowsy Chaperone'. Traditionally cast as a much older actor, young Spencer Hines adopts the traits of an old, gentle and very particular man brilliantly. His mannerisms both physically and vocally are endearing and beautifully mask the very obvious age gap between his actual age and that of his character. A beautiful and honest performance.
Spencer Hines - The Drowsy Chaperone. Photo: Ben Fon
Hines is complimented by a very strong cast both in lead roles and in the ensemble. This show is in a word; tight. The physicalisation of each character is clear and concise. Under the direction of Rebecca Cecil, each actor adopts a strong heightened stereotype and that raises this whole production to a very high standard. Kara Sims is darling as the ingénue Janet, Dan Czech is a hysterical Aldolpho and in the role of the Chaperone, Grace Haslinghouse is an absolute showstopper.
Particular mention must go to the two 'pastry chefs' Ahila Navaratnam and Harry Gore. I often cringe slightly when I see a female has been cast in a male role. It often becomes apparent that the female has been cast because there was no male available, or the director just wanted to be 'different'. This is not the case for this production. From the moment she steps on stage, Navaratnam is so brilliantly committed to her role and is so in sync with her co-star, that I couldn't help but think "I would cast her too". They are funny, they are sharp and they display a complete understanding of their schtick. Well done.
Choreography by Holly Bromley and Maddy Pratt is very clean. Student theatre often brings a range of dance abilities (and I mean "a range".) In this ensemble, not a move is out of place or beyond the abilities of the actors. That's not to say it's dumbed down - it looks really good. The one slightly jagged piece in this very smooth show is the tap feature in 'Cold Feets'. Tom Phyland and Lachlan Boldt either haven't been tapping for long, or learnt how to tap for the show. That being said, they did a really great job of trying to hide it. And I must say, the only reason that it really stood out, is because the rest of the production is just so great.
Overall, this is just an utterly joyful experience, full of heart and commitment. It's not often you leave a show feeling elated, this show will do it for you. It will make you laugh until you cry and then actually cry (the ending.....oh the ending).
This show is on until the end of this week at Melbourne Uni in the Union Theatre. Go buy a ticket.
Photography: Ben Fon