THE BASICS: This sprightly, popular British musical from 1937 got revived in 1985, with a new book by Stephen Fry and additional songs by Noel Gay, and was even more of a hit the second time around (Eight years in London, three on Broadway)! The Shaw Festival is presenting the revised version in repertory at the Festival Theatre through October 15th. Ashlie Corcoran directs a cast of twenty-three. Musical director Paul Sportelli conducts an ensemble of thirteen. ME AND MY GIRL, with its single intermission, runs about two hours and thirty-five minutes.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: When charming Cockney wastrel Bill Snibson learns that he is the “lost” fourteenth Earl of Hareford, he is properly bowled over. It’s a dream come true …or is it? Bill will have to prove that, with the proper tutoring, tailoring and scrubbing behind the ears, he can be gentlemanly enough to inherit the title, as the will stipulates. Can he pass muster with his formidable Aunt Maria, Duchess of Dene, and the stuffy, reproving Sir John Tremayne? And as for Sally Smith, his adorable long-time sweetheart from lowly Lambeth, it looks like she is going to have to go…
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: The ME AND MY GIRL now on view at the Shaw is a thing of great cheer, brimming with unabashed populist sentimentality. Think of it as Noel Coward meets Frank Capra. Despite its length (act two is all but superfluous) and the iffiness of the gags (expect some real groaners) our boy Bill’s quest for acceptance among the silly nobles is a thing of constant pleasure.
Think of it as Noel Coward meets Frank Capra.
The sweetness, pluck and big heart of slum girl Sally Smith is the show’s other ace in the hole. You’d really have to be quite an old Scrooge not to enjoy yourself here!
The Shaw production has a whole lot going for it. Newcomer Michael Therriault is a lovable, bouncy little Bill. Think Tommy Steele, but a little less abrasive. Kristi Frank, in her fifth season, has a breakout role here as Sally, and does herself proud. She’s pitch perfect. Shaw veteran Sharry Flett, a fountain of talent and versatility, warms up austere Aunt Maria enough to make a real woman of her, steering the show away from potentially painful melodrama. When she gets to channel her inner Carol Burnett in the goofy “Song of Hareford” (pretty much stolen from RUDDIGORE), she shows that she’s a damned good singer, to boot! Elodie Gillett also makes a strong impression as the money-hungry, predatory Lady Jaqueline Carstone. Her lithe form and boundless energy are on full display in the funny “You Would If You Could”. Amazingly, our boy Bill repels her every advance. Ric Reid’s Sir John Tremayne grows on you, as his character transforms from haughty peer to boozy, lovelorn co-conspirator. Jay Turvey gets to camp it up a bit in another G&S knock-off, “The Family Solicitor”. Neil Barclay, who should really be playing Nero Wolfe these days, is solid (sorry) and dependable as the butler, Charles Hethersett.
The score by Noel Gay is light and bright, with the title song and “The Lambeth Walk” being particular standouts. The latter, which ends the first act, is so catchy, and is so well performed and staged, it’s nothing less than exhilarating. One further highlight: “Leaning on a Lamp Post”, an add-in for the revised version, which gives Mr. Therriault a chance to channel his inner Gene Kelly!
The lyrics are another matter altogether. They are notably trite, monosyllabic, subtracting from, rather than adding to, the pleasures of the songs. When Act Two begins with a song called “The Sun Has Got His Hat On”, you know you’re in trouble!
Production wise, ME AND MY GIRL, is first rate, right down the line. It’s everything you expect from the Shaw Festival. Director Ashlie Corcoran gets the proper slightly-gooney exuberance from her large cast, and has them all prancing nimbly about Drew Facey’s simple but imposing set. A special shout out to Sue LePage for the seemingly endless parade of eye-catching costumes.
IN SUM: While this two time British blockbuster is not in the pantheon of great musicals, it is terribly ingratiating, particularly in our present, populist times. Here’s the Shaw Festival picking the right show, and doing it up just right. You’re liable to find yourself doing the Lambeth Walk right out of the theater!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!