Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Lambeth Walk in NYC: 'Me & My Girl' at City Center

In terms of classic versus new theatre, I'm of the mindset that something brand new is always better. That of course is not always the case, but you can't argue with the likes of Hamilton or Dear, Evan Hansen. Those completely new and different shows have taken off in ways that have never been seen before, and in doing so have brought new audiences to theaters in droves. On the other hand, one of my very favorite evenings of theatre in the past year was seeing Bette Midler in the revival of Hello, Dolly. It's a classic in every way, and yet I found myself unconsciously smiling throughout the entire show. 

That's the thing about good drama, you just never know what's going to excite. And for this very reason, I recently found myself sitting at New York City Center grinning from ear to ear as I watched Christian Borle and Laura Michelle Kelly command the stage in the Encores! production of Me & My Girl. The show was originally written in the 1940s and had a bit of a revival in the late 1980s, but hasn't been seen on a New York stage since. After seeing the altogether bright, breezy and joyful production, I'd say it's due for a full-scale revival soon. Broadway (and not to mention, the world) could use a sprinkle of happiness and tap-dancing.

Much of the happiness in the production comes from witnessing the master of physical comedy, Christian Borle milk every single line for a belly laugh. He's brilliant and I was in awe just watching for the little asides and toss-away gags he added to the role. Even his British accent was pretty darn believable; not always the case. He was absolutely fantastic as Bill, the brawler from Lambeth who's just been told he's in fact the heir to the Hereford estate - making him the Earl of Hereford, as long as he can impress his new and very British upper-class family members.

The "girl" in the show's title refers to Bill's partner Sally (played by Laura Michelle Kelly.) She's also from Lambeth, and therefore has no business being on the arm of a soon to be Earl. Their relationship on stage was spot-on. Christian and Laura were last seen on Broadway together in Mary Poppins. Their playfulness in playing opposite each other is still very apparent. She's perfectly cast as a sweet girl madly in love with Bill. She is also quite skilled at the comedy, but was upstaged slightly by Christian.

Other standouts in the ensemble included Harriet Harris, as Bill's stuck-up and British aunt Mariah who's goal was to turn Bill into her rightful and aristocratic heir, but seemed to be charmed by her seemingly ne'r do well nephew. Playing her possible love interest and confidant was the always funny Chuck Cooper. His John spent most of the show ever so slightly tipsy, plotting to help Bill and Sally and pining for Mariah. Also appearing was quite possibly the heir to Christian Borle's comedy throne - Mark Evans, on a break from performing in The Play that Goes Wrong. Numbers such as "The Sun has got his Hat on" and "A Weekend in Hereford" were made immensely more enjoyable thanks to his comedic talents. He looked and sounded the part of the perfect English gentleman and tapped his way into the hearts of the audience.

In all of this wonder, it may seem that I've forgotten to mention what made this show so popular in the 1940s when it was first conceived - "The Lambeth Walk." Apparently, the jaunty dance and the hummable song that accompanied it swept the nation after it appeared in the musical. Thankfully the creatives behind this particular production took that to heart, and created a musical number so joyful that it garnered a standing ovation mid-show. It was fun and silly, and if the rest of the audience was anything like me, they were left awash in happiness from the sheer "sparkliness" (a very technical concept if you must know...) of the number.

Shows like these are what makes City Center's dedication to producing these musical classics so admirable. Just a few weeks to create something from the ground-up sounds ridiculous, but NYCC is able to consistently cast actors and creatives that relish the opportunity to do so. Differing from past productions I've seen at the center, this cast had no scripts to assist with lines and and the choreography was some of the most intricate and impressive I've ever seen. In other words, the show was of the same quality (maybe better) than Broadway productions that have months or years to prepare. Because of this, Me & My Girl should be seen as a feather in the cap of City Center and their 25th season. With any luck, this will hopefully prove, once and for all that the classics aren't dead and shows like these should continue to receive the star treatment they deserve! 

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