Take an 1892 British farce that broke records with its 1466-performance London run. Add to it nearly two-dozen song hits from the 1900s, ‘10s, and early ‘20s. Cast it with a terrific bunch of actors who can also sing and dance. Add to the mix a director, musical director, choreographer, and trio of designers, each of whom is blessed with ingenuity and flair. Do all of the above and the result is I’m Just Wild About Harry, Gary Lamb and William A. Reilly’s delightful jukebox musical now playing at the duo’s Crown City Theatre Co.


The British farce in question is Brandon Thomas’s classic Charlie’s Aunt, originally adapted for the musical stage by Frank Loesser in 1948 as Where’s Charlie, a show which has mostly disappeared into musical theater limbo and whose songs (other than “Once In Love With Amy”) have largely gone unremembered.

I’m Just Wild About Harry takes the same rollickingly farcical plot but makes sure that its songs ring musical bells (in addition to being in pre-1923 public domain). The result is a show which doesn’t cost its creators a dime in royalties—both a savvy business decision and one that yields considerable artistic rewards.

Lamb and Reilly’s adaptation sticks close to the original’s plot, though it switches the setting from 1890 Oxford to 1910 Old Milwaukee U., and changes co-protagonist Charley Wyckeham’s name to the more American-sounding Harry Whitman, the better to match the show’s (and its title song’s) title. The rechristened Harry still has a roommate Jack Chesney, but the duo’s girlfriends are now named Margie and Katy. (Three guesses why.)

As in Thomas’s original, our two heroes are aiming to propose to their ladies fair, but there’s a hitch: Neither girl is willing to visit Harry and Jack’s campus digs without a female chaperone on hand. Fortunately Harry receives word that his wealthy widowed aunt, Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez, is arriving from Brazil just in time to be of assistance. Unfortunately Donna Lucia is delayed. Fortunately their music professor Benjamin Babberey (aka Babbs) happens to be appearing as Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest, and has shown up at Harry and Jack’s door, costume in suitcase in hand. Fortunately too, Babbs has just put on his costume to run lines when Margie and Katy return, and Harry and Jack, clever chaps that they are, introduce him/her as Aunt Lucia.

Adding to the madcap mix are Katy’s uncle (aka Old Spettigue), Jack’s father Frank, Babbs’ sweetheart Ida Delahay, and the real Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez, giving the boys a pair of dueling Aunt Lucias to juggle as they make their way towards the happy ending any farce fan worth his or her salt can see coming from lights up.

Lamb and Reilly open the show with a series of deliberately corny jokes to set the farcical mood (A: Where can you find a one-legged dog? B: I don’t know, where? C: Right where you left it.) blended into a song-and-dance number featuring the entire cast warbling and tapping their feet to “I Love A Musical Comedy Show,” a song so fresh and new sounding that it comes as a surprise to learn that it was written way back in 1919.

Under Joanne McGee’s snappy direction, I’m Just Wild About Harry never stops entertaining with its razor-sharp timing, clever running gags, and the one of the funniest cross-dressing leading men (leading ladies?) ever. It is sophisticated enough to please your most Broadway-savvy musical theater queen and sufficiently family-friendly to charm your churchgoing maiden aunt.

Among the musical chestnuts which fit so nicely into I’m Just Wild About Harry’s deliciously convoluted plot are “Look For The Silver Lining” (Harry’s and Jack’s advice to Babbs when they learn that the girl he loves skipped town before he got a chance to propose), “Runnin’ Wild” (the fake Donna Lucia’s done-with-love mantra), “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” (which has Margie and Katy attempting to explain love in simian terms to Lucia, who comes from “a veritable monkey, nut banana land”), “Spanish Love” (one of Donna Lucia’s late husband’s favorites—even though he was Portuguese); and “You Made Me Love You” (Ida’s second chance at declaring her love to Babbs). “Margie” is Jack’s way of proposing to his intended (no wonder they changed her name from Kitty) and “K-K-K-Katy” serves the same purpose for Harry, who has conveniently revealed in an early scene that the very idea of p-p-p-popping the question to his b-b-b-beloved makes him stutter.

Director McGee has made sure that her entire cast remain on the same page stylistically, playing their roles (relatively) straight yet just heightened (and campy) enough to give a wink to the show’s present-day audience. Mikhail Roberts (Jack) and Matthew Thompson (Harry) make for an utterly delightful pair of leads, with Sarah French (Margie) and Melanie Taylor (Katy) matching them in adorableness and charm. Louis Silvers makes the part of Mr. Spettigue uniquely, outrageously his own, Dave Berges (Frank) and Carol Jones (Donna Lucia) are a terrific pair of “older” lovers, and Lisaun Whittingham is not only lovely as Ida but the evening’s vocal standout. Finally, there’s the stellar Douglas Thornton doing Milton Berle, Harvey Korman, and Flip Wilson proud as both Babbs and Donna Lucia.

Stephanie Pease’s choreography pays tribute to early 20th Century dance steps while giving them a contemporary, campy pizzazz. Musical director/arranger Reilly provides splendid live piano accompaniment (with occasional help from Roberts on percussion). Keiko Moreno’s set design (a cleverly detailed 1910 campus apartment) is a winner as are costume designer Tanya Apuya’s early 20th Century fashions and Zad Potter’s lighting design. I’m Just Wild About Harry features additional lyrics by Reilly. Potter and Moreno serve as stage managers.

I’m Just Wild About Harry proves yet another winner from North Hollywood’s Crown City Theatre Co., a company that never fails to surprise and impress with its varied assortment of offerings. A definite crowd-pleaser, their latest is not only a thoroughly entertaining evening of Los Angeles musical theater, but one that ought to prove attractive to community, college, and regional theaters nationwide. Hats will be eaten if you’re not wild about it too.

Crown City Theater, St. Matthew’s Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood. 

–Steven Stanley
June 10, 2010
Photos: Ben Rovner

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