Musical theatre star Elaine Paige had two reasons to celebrate today, as she marked both her return to the London stage after an absence of six years and her birthday at this morning’s press launch for the West End premiere of Broadway hit The Drowsy Chaperone.

At a press conference held at the Novello Theatre - where the musical opens on 6 June 2007, following previews from 14 May and a press night on 5 June (See News, 18 Jan 2007) – Broadway producer Kevin McCollum (who also produces Avenue Q in London) described the five-time Tony Award-winning show as like “falling in love - it doesn’t make sense, but it is completely wonderful.”

McCollum (who co-produces the musical with Roy Miller, Boyett Ostar, Stephanie McClelland and Barbara Freitag and Jill Furman), joked: “It opened in Canada – which, aside from the title, is another reason it shouldn’t work – but it has no violence, no nudity, and no hobbits.” To which the diminutive Paige interjected: “Well, that last comment’s cutting it a bit close!” McCollum added: “But we’re tall on talent. And naked in joy, whatever that means.”

Paige, whose many musical credits include Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Evita and Anything Goes, also celebrates her 59th birthday today. At today’s event, she presented with a birthday cake, before she went on to talk to the gathered journalists about her role in the show.

The parody of 1920s romantic musicals began life as a 20-minute sketch as a wedding gift to Bob Martin (who co-wrote the book and stars in the show). In it, a modern-day musical theatre addict known simply as “Man in Chair” (Martin) drops the needle on his favourite LP, the 1928 musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone. From the crackle of his hi-fi, the musical bursts to life on stage, telling the tale of a pampered Broadway starlet who wants to give up show business to get married, her producer who sets out to sabotage the nuptials, her chaperone (Paige), the debonair groom, the dizzy chorine, the Latin lover and a pair of gangsters who double as pastry chefs.

Paige’s last starring role in the West End was in the 2000 revival of The King and I at the London Palladium, which she left at the end of her contract in spring 2001 (See News, 16 Nov 1999). The actress told today that The Drowsy Chaperone “is very clever and witty, and totally original, which I found very appealing. It’s almost like an homage or a love letter to musical theatre of yesteryear – it even has gangsters in it. The last time I was in a comedy with gangsters in it was Anything Goes, and this is very much reminiscent of the same era. It is also very funny.”

She added: “My character is an actress who is very partial to vodka martinis, which is wonderful - I thought, no acting required there, then! She is also very fond of singing all these rousing ballads, which I’ve been lucky enough to sing a few of in my career.”


The Drowsy Chaperone also stars Summer Strallen, Nickolas Grace, John Partridge, Selina Chilton, Enyoman Gbesmete, Cameron Jack, Adam Stafford, Nina French, Mark Goldthorp, Paul Iveson, Sherrie Pennington, Christopher Bennett, Vivienne Carlyle, Mark Dickinson and Lincoln Stone. It has music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and a book by Don McKellar and Martin. Broadway’s Casey Nicholaw, who made his West End debut with his choreography on Spamalot, both choreographs and directs The Drowsy Chaperone.

The show is designed by David Gallo, with costumes by Gregg Barnes, and lighting by Ken Billington and Brian Monahan, sound design by Acme Sound Partners, orchestrations by Larry Blank and dance and incidental music arrangements by Glen Kelly. It is initially booking until 23 February 2008.

Currently at the Novello, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s winter residency continues until 24 March 2007, with the current production of The Tempest, starring Patrick Stewart.

- by Caroline Ansdell