Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Creative “Me and My Girl” delights at Shaw Festival

Though America is credited with developing modern musical theater, productions that have a story-line and incorporate dance and song into the format, there is one aspect of the genre which the British do much better…the musical farce.  Yes, shows like “Me and My Girl,” in which slapstick, double-takes, physical exaggeration and the ridiculous hold sway tend to be delightful in the hands of the Brits and Canadians due to their long history of music hall theater in which broad exaggeration and farce hold supreme.

Scripts in which class is taken into consideration is also where the British shine.  In contrast to supposedly classless America, Britain is traditionally class driven.  Therefore, many British plays and musicals mock the British caste system.  Whether it’s “My Fair Lady,” “By Jeeves,” “Half a Six Pence” “Oliver,” or “Me and My Girl,” class plays a roll.

To grasp the underlying premise of “Me and My Girl,” the British class system has to be understood.  In contrast to the caste system in other European countries, the British system is somewhat more flexible.  A person may rise through the order by getting wealthy, being knighted or being revealed as a member of the exclusive group through a quirk of parentage, in contrast to the “you have to be born into this position, no exceptions.”

In “Me and My Gal,” Bill Snibson, the central character in the L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber (book and lyrics) set to Noel Gay’s music, is an uninhibited cockney from Lambeth, which is a dense industrial, commercial, residential, low-level area of London, noted for its unique language patterns, which includes using slang and making up rhymes while speaking.

The story takes place in the late 1930s and tells the tale of the unrefined cockney, Bill (Michael Therriault), who learns that he is the heir to the Earl of Hareford.  Yes, he is now a wealthy titled member of the upper class.  That is, if he gets the approval of the Earl’s solicitor, Sir John Tremayne (Ric Reid), and Bill’s uptight Aunt Maria, the Duchess of Dene (Sharry Flett).  Not only must Bill change his language and actions, but must rid himself of his long time love, Sally (Kristi Frank).

As happens in all farce, after all sorts of ridiculous complications, as in all British fairytales, all’s well that ends well as Bill and Sally are finally brought together as a proper gent and his lady.

Highlight scenes include the coming to life of the portraits of Bill’s ancestors, Sally being whisked off to a speech professor (think Henry Higgins from “Pygmalion”), the show stopping “Preparation Fugue” and the dynamic “The Lambeth Walk,” a dance craze which was highlighted in a story in the “London Times” of October, 1938 with the statement, “While dictators rant and statesman talk, all Europe dances to the Lambeth Walk.”

The Shaw production, under the creative, dynamic direction of Ashlie Corcoran is a laugh-centric, fun experience.  Corcoran, who has as the deft ability to create farcical, uninhibited scenes, is ably assisted by choreographer Parker Esse, who knows how to stage dance routines, especially creative tap numbers.

The cast is universally outstanding, “not a wreck in the peck.”

Though it is generally understood that the original script was written to star Lupino Lane, a 1930’s London theater favorite, who was a singer-comedian known for his acrobatic abilities, it would be hard to believe that anyone could be better in the role of Bill than The Shaw’s Therriault.  The mighty-mite, a diminutive version of famous Danny Kay, is a four-talent star.  He can sing, act, dance and create physical farce with the best of them.   Therriault is a dynamo, who grabs and holds the audience’s attention in every appearance.  His “Leaning on a Lamp Post” was charismatic and his prat falls superb.

Kristi Frank is character-perfect as Sally.  Therriault and Frank’s renditions of “Me and My Gal” and “Hold My Hand” were charming, as was her “Once You Lose Your Heart.”

Capsule judgment:  It’s impossible to sit in the audience and not be carried away with The Shaw’s “Me and My Girl.”  It is a charming, dynamic, fun-filled must see-production.
For theater information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to http://www.shawfest.com. Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.