Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Me and My Girl"


Me and My Girl
Noel Gray (Music); Douglas Furber & L. Arthur Rose (Book & Lyrics)
Stephen Fry (Book Revisions); Mike Ockrent (Further Book Contributions)


Melissa WolkKlain & Keith Pinto
Ring the sirens; clang the bells; light the neon marquee; turn on the sky-roving spotlights.  Do whatever necessary to tell the San Francisco Bay Area to head to the Gateway Theatre to revel in the not-to-be-missed Me and My Girl, maybe the best show 42nd Street Moon has done in years!  At the first harmoniously alive bars of “A Weekend at Hareford” from a stage-filling ensemble of faces lit up in peaked expressions, audience toes begin tapping; initial smiles turn into huge, permanent grins; and the evening’s almost non-stop laughs begin. 

The music of Noel Gray and the lyrics of Douglas Furber & L. Arthur Rose have made this 1937 musical an audience favorite since it debuted in London; and even though it took one year short of fifty to make it to Broadway, once there, it remained three years.  At 42nd Street Moon, every number of Me and My Girl seems to better than the one previous, with the stellar voices truly outstanding to a person.  By the end of the show, so many songs are still in one’s head, it is actually difficult to pick which one to hum upon exiting – with a big grin still plastered across the face! 

The hoity-toity, aristocratic Hareford family is scouring London of the 1930s, seeking its 14th Earl -- the 13th having wed a girl from a neighborhood no one else in the family would ever dare step foot.  News arrives that a son of the late Earl has been found -- from of all places (gasp), the lowly Lambeth section of London. 

While the rest of the family is aghast, Lady Jacqueline Carstone (Elise Youssef) has determined, “If our new Lord Hareford is going to get the money, then I am going to get the new Lord Hareford.”  That means breaking off her engagement with the ever-so finicky and proper Gerald Bolingbroke (Daniel Thomas).  The two sing “Thinking of No-One But Me” in a number where Gerald’s knockout tenor wonders, “What is going to happen to me?” while Jacquie uses not only her personality-plus vocals but also her huge eyes and eyelashes to let it be known, “Just look at me and you’ll see me on top of the tree, thinking nothing of no one but me.”  Their humorous but beautifully delivered song kicks off a long line of audience-approved hit after hit, with both these actors getting further chances to draw much laughter as the plot thickens and their own destinies become uncertain.

The Cast of Me and My Girl
This family of stuffy sorts in full panic wants to make sure no one not born of their bluest of blood heads their dynasty; and so they turn to their loyal solicitor, Herbert Parchester, for help.  With lips puckered proudly and a tongue that literally flows from his mouth as he speaks, Michael Barrett Austin as Parchester does little to give them confidence that he can actually help as he leads the gathered clan in a hopping, skipping, and jumping dance line as he sings in a wonderfully funny and exacting British accent, “Say a little and think a little and eat a little and drink a little ... for the family solicitor!”  (Gilbert and Sullivan, are you listening to these lyrics?)  Parchester is just one of many of the absolutely funny and endearing stock characters Stephen Fry created in his original book, and Mr. Austin brings the fun and flair that makes Parchester a solicitor to be remembered a long time.

  As the head butler Heathersett (and later as a beat bobby on the street), Colin Thomson draws huge laughs, especially as Heathersett leads the entire servant staff to imitate the aristocrats they serve in “The English Gentleman.”  Never speaking a word but funnier by the minute is Sir Jasper Tring (Scott Hayes) whose horn for hearing becomes a running source for merriment and whose pantomimed gestures are comically terrific and leaning a little on the lewd side.
The "Hareford Staff" of Me and My Girl
And such is true for other, equally delicious support roles in this cast.

Millisa Carey sings with a matronly voice and a slight warble that is perfectly tuned for the family’s grand Duchess, leading a library full of ancestral statues that come to dancing/singing life in “Song of Hareford.”  Along with Sir John – a pompous but lovable Michael Patrick Gaffney who has a love for a drink or three -- the Duchess is to decide if the newly found Earl can acquire enough gentlemanly manners in order to meet the family standard.

Keith Pinto
The missing Earl arrives clad in plaid, with big hand shakes, and sporting a cockney accent – all of which send the family into shock and tut-tut titters. Keith Pinto is a Bill Snibson whose clowning falls, faces, and foul-ups would do a master like Bill Irwin proud; whose dancing in tap, soft-shoe, and show style would cause Gene Kelley to take notice; and whose singing voice is a blast from the past that Gershwin or Porter would admire.  Bill is at first is not at all sure he wants to be an almighty Earl; but when he dons ermine-collared red robes with matching coronet hanging cock-eyed on his head, he walks around like he is getting a little used to the idea.

However, there is the little matter of Sally Smith (Melissa WolfKlain), the neighborhood sweetheart that he intends to marry and that the Duchess et al are determined he will not.  From their first, Vaudeville-style number, “Me and My Girl,” where they fast and slow tap in mimic of the other while also singing in voices that alert us that they are for real as the show’s stars, there is no doubt but Bill and Sally are meant for each other.  Whenever Mr. Pinto and Ms. WolfKlain are on stage together (as in “Hold My Hand”), there is an electric spark of attraction between them that is palatable while at the same time, they have the combined comic timing and mastery that could make them headliners in a 1930s comedy movie. 

But it is the lark-like voice of Melissa Wolfkain’s Sally that time and again wows the audience with a clarity of tone and a charisma of style that cannot help but make smiles universally appear in the audience.  Like Keith Pinto, her Sally knows how to get laughs galore.  Her Sally also has the integrity to win points of genuine admiration from the likes of Sir John and Parchester as she “Takes It on the Chin” to do what’s best for Bill and his potential ascension into earldom.

Mindy Cooper directs this fabulous cast with a liberal dose of milking every scene for its full comic potential while making sure the underlying love story never gets too over-shadowed to be forgotten.  So many little touches like a Bill bowlegged from his first fox hunt to a armored knight who suddenly comes to life make for an overall gigantic set of directed effects that keep the audience in stitches.  The choreography, also designed by Mindy Cooper, is humorously exaggerated in just the right ways while impressive in its many styles of the 1930s era. “The Lambeth Walk” is a near showstopper, as leg claps, foot snaps, and side steps illustrate a dance that took England by storm when introduced in the show’s ’37 premiere.

The wigs of Lexie Lazear and the costumes of Liz Martin are a showcase of the entire gamut of social classes of 1930s London, and many are designed fully to be laugh-getters in themselves.  David Lam’s lighting draws our attention to just the right spots for a song’s moment of emotional climax or to a line-up of tap-dancing ancestors.  Brian Watson’s design employs clever, fast-assembled scenes that the play’s characters often bring on and off as part of their comic entrances and exits.  Finally, Dave Dubrusky once again reigns supreme as the Moon’s music director, with his big band of three often sounding like an orchestra of ten (with Nick Di Scala on reeds and Max Judelson on bass joining Mr. Dubrusky on piano).

By the time the jubilant cast sings the finale with voices bigger than ever, “And we’ll have love, laughter, be happy ever after, me and my girl,” there is not doubt left but that 42nd Street Moon has a hit on its hands in reviving this 1980s updated version of the 1937 Me and My Girl.  The only thing unhappy about this show is if every seat in the intimate Gateway Theatre is not full for the rest of its run.

Rating: 5 E, “MUST-SEE”

Me and My Girl continues through May 20, 2018 at 42nd Street Moon’s Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at http://www.42ndstmoon.org or by calling the box office at 415-255-8207.

Photos by Ben Krantz Studio


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