Show People (Chapel Off Chapel) – theatre review

Bold, brassy, belligerent, sensitive and respectful. The supremely talented Christie Whelan-Browne is all that and much more, as she tackles the thorny subject of making it in the world of musical theatre. Not content with playing herself, she assumes multiple personas.

First up, a new graduate – Jessica – whose job it is to introduce Ms Whelan-Browne nervously attends to her duties. That is before she seizes the opportunity to showcase her own diverse talent in a fast-paced mash up medley. In reality, “Jessica” succeeds in showcasing Whelan-Browne’s dynamic range, which is, of course, the whole point.

Next, seemingly perpetual understudy Candice tries to gain an understanding of why she is always playing second fiddle while her classmates are, by now, assuming lead roles. In Candice, a healthy ego and vulnerability make for very human bedfellows. Whelan-Browne’s masterful comic timing are highlights of both the first two acts.

A change up number from a hot chorus boy follows, after which we are introduced to a 33-year-old artist chatting with her agent while waiting for her next big role to come through. Her maternal instincts kick in and she wonders whether she can continue to undertake the rigorous routine demanded of a musical theatre star.

Paddy is a knockabout Aussie leading man with tickets on himself who tries in vain to brush off overstepping the mark with a company newcomer. Margie’s best is well and truly behind her. Just a handful or two trickle in to see her perform in penny and dime halls far from the big smoke. Refined Edmund’s show business life has been filled with adulation and triumph. He reflects on his long hurrah.

Whelan-Browne’s is yet another performance for the ages. I say that because I have followed her career closely and I never cease to marvel at her profound ability. In fact, truth be told, I am in awe of it. Here she pushes the boundaries even further. Make no mistake, this is a complex work, which demands changes of pace and mood. It is heavy on dialogue and accent shifts. Why am I not surprised that Whelan-Browne excels? She does not miss a beat.

Through her characterisations, she even finds time to take a few hilarious digs at herself. The audience – quite rightly – laps it all up for Whelan-Browne delights and surprises. Bravo. Bravo. Much credit, too, must go to the writer and director Dean Bryant, who knows just how to make Whelan-Browne shine. He is a supreme talent in his own right. And it would be remiss of me not to also compliment Whelan-Browne’s fall guy in the show, her deliberately humourless music director and the man tickling the ivories, Mathew Frank.

Show People is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until 18th June, 2022. I say bring on an encore season.

Alex First

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