Sunday, August 09, 2009

Me and My Girl

‘ME AND MY GAL,’ Mercury Summer Stock’s attempt at farce

On the surface, ‘ME AND MY GIRL,’ which is now on stage at Mercury Summer Stock, appears to be a light, escapist show that should be easy to stage, since its goal is out and out fun. Nothing could be further from the truth. The script is farce, and to make it more difficult, British farce. That style of theatre is very, very difficult to pull off well. It takes good underplaying, exquisite timing, and the perfect balance between realism and fantasy.

This musical tale concerns a cockney lad who inherits an earldom when his aristocratic father, who has had an affair with the lad’s working class mother, dies. Billy is tracked down, and the family finds out, much to their snobbish horror, that the only male heir, is everything they abhor….gross, out spoken and from Lambeth, a low class area of London. Chaos ensues, until, of course, all can live happily ever after, with the various romantic confusions settled nicely.

The musical, with book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, and music by Noel Gay, had its original London production in 1937, and ran four years. A revised London version had an even longer run in 1985 and the Broadway version, which opened in 1986, ran 1,420 performances.

Interestingly, the production’s show stopper, “The Lambeth Walk”, became a political cause, when in 1938, The London Times stated, “While dictators rage and statesmen talk, all Europe dances — to The Lambeth Walk.”

The Mercury production tries hard to create the right feel for the show. Maybe it tries too hard. Director Pierre-Jacques Brault pulls out all the stops, and shtick follows shtick which follows shtick. Normally, in British farce, the director lets the material develop its own image. Here Brault doesn’t seem to trust the script’s natural fun and inserts puppets, bubbles, over exaggeration of characters, use of every stereotype he could think of, and putting his lead actor in physical danger to do prat fall after prat fall.

Does he succeed? Depends on your viewpoint. The audience, the night I saw the show, laughed and laughed (but didn’t give it the traditional Mercury standing ovation). The elderly man sitting behind me audibly repeated every gimmick to his wife between giggles. On the other hand, what would have happened if Brault had let the book and lyrics speak for themselves? As Billy, the lead character might say, “Dun’t knuw. Din’t see et.”

His choreography is often quite clever, though some of the dancers struggle to do the steps without verbally counting.

Mercury Summer Theatre, though it bills itself as a “professionally based,” theatre is, for all practical purposes, an amateur community theatre populated by high school and college kids, with one professional thrown in, along with some adults of various theatrical backgrounds. This makes the acting pool rather inexperienced. Considering that, Brault gets some good performances.

Jennifer Myor sparkles as Sally, Bill’s “girl.” She has a nice singing voice, good stage presence, and a nice touch with humor. Cleveland favorite, Hester Lewellen, has the right airs as Maria, Bill’s stuffy aunt. Cindi Verbelun has a cute bit as Joan of Arc.

Brian Marshall, the only equity member of the cast, is very talented, but, in this role seems to have no restraint. He sings and dances well, but he literally throws himself all over the stage in attempts at humor. He did not need to be all Three Stooges rolled into one.

Some of the others feign and exaggerate; acting, rather than reacting to their lines and motivations.

The sets and, costumes, considering the minimal budget the theatre has, are quite impressive. Especially creative are the Pearly costumes, with their numerous button patterns.

Eddie Carney does a nice job of musical direction and his orchestra is very good.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you love slapstick and a production full of uncontrolled shticks, you’ll appreciate Mercury’s ‘ME AND MY GIRL.’