Here’s a Broadway trivia quiz for you. Which of the following musicals ran the longest on The Great White Way: How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Funny Girl, The King And I, Cabaret, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate, The Pajama Game, or Me And My Girl?
If you’re anything like this reviewer/Broadway buff, you may be astonished by the answer. 1986’s Me And My Girl trumps its far better known competitors with a grand total of 1420 performances, just one of many reasons to cheer the arrival of this largely obscure Broadway smash, now smashingly revived by L.A.’s premier theater-in-the-round, Glendale Centre Theatre.
Me And My Girl’s three-and-a-half-year run must have come as the biggest surprise of the 1986-87 season. Unlike the season’s Tony-winning Best Musical Les Misérables, Me And My Girl was based, not on one of the world’s greatest novels, but on a forgotten 1937 West End musical. As for its score, it would be an understatement to say that Me And My Girl’s Noel Gay was hardly the household name of its other Tony competitors’, Starlight Express’s Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Rags’ Stephen Schwartz.
Still, Broadway audiences embraced Me And My Girl’s old-fashioned charm, its delightful storyline (with its tip of the hat to Pygmalion), Gay’s tuneful melodies (lyrics by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose), its outrageously funny book (by Tony nominees Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose), and the Tony-winning lead performances of Robert Lindsay and Maryann Plunkett. (Four supporting players got Tony nominations as well.)
Filling Lindsay’s and Plunkett’s shoes at Glendale Centre Theatre, and quite splendidly indeed, are GCT treasure Danny Michaels as Bill Snibson, the Lambeth Cockney who learns to his astonishment that he has inherited the title of “Earl of Hareford,” and the golden-voiced Lyndie Renee as his working-class girlfriend Sally.
There is one catch to the recently deceased Earl’s last will and testament, however. In order to satisfy the conditions of his predecessor’s dying wishes, Bill must (like Eliza Doolittle before him) learn upper class ways, with executors Duchess Maria (pronounced Mariah) of Dene (Dynell Leigh) and Sir John Tremayne (Dale Jones) serving as his somewhat unwilling tutors.
Not surprisingly, Bill’s impending wealth makes him quite the catch, and competition for Gerald Bolingbroke (Todd Andrew Hall), whose fiancée Lady Jacqueline “Jacquie” Carstone (Karen Volpe) breaks off her engagement in order to pursue Bill, much to Sally’s dismay.
Who was it who said that the course of true love never did run smooth?
British musical hall style and sensibility meet American burlesque humor to make Me And My Girl one of the funniest musicals ever to entertain Broadway (and GCT) audiences. (One guesses that the book’s Tony-unnominated script doctors Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent had a lot to do with its high laughs-per-minute quotient.) Bill informs Lady Jacquie that he lives in “a distant village called London,” and when she wonders, “Which part?” he replies, “All of me.” A wealthy dowager asks Bill, “Do you know my daughter May?” to which the ever-ready quipster responds, “No, but thanks for the tip.” And when “two bags” get referred to, you can bet it’s not the pair of suitcases just behind two high society dames that are being referred to.
Director/choreographer Orlando Alexander and his all-around splendid cast make sure to stay on the same outrageous page from start to finish. Hereford lawyer Herbert Parchester (Dean Ricca) loses not one chance to burst into song, skipping about offering musical advice to “bring your troubles more and more to ‘The Family Solicitor’” whether anyone wants to listen or not. Volpe’s body-bending attempts to seduce Michaels atop a divan are physical comedy at its most delicious. And there is an absolutely brilliant scene involving Michaels and an enormous “vermin”-collard cape that may well break laugh records at Glendale Centre Theatre.
As choreographer, Alexander doesn’t let pass the opportunity to get virtually every one of the production’s cast of twenty-six on their feet, from the rousing opening number “A Weekend At Hareford,” to the showstopping Act Two closer (and the musical’s best-known song) “The Lambeth Walk,” to the nearly-as-energetic Act Two opener “The Sun Has Got His Hat On,” to the great-big grand finale. Add to that Michaels and Renee doing some fancy-footed tabletop tap-dancing to Me And My Girl’s title song in one of the musical’s signature moments and you’ve got one of the danciest—and best-danced—GCT musicals ever.
Michaels, the Scenie-winning Best Lead Actor of GCT’s The Will Rogers Follies, may exceed Bill’s presumed chronological age by more than a few years, but this matters little given the comedic brilliance of his performance. Think of physical comedy greats like Sid Caesar, Jim Carrey, Tim Conway, Jerry Lewis, and Steve Martin and add Michaels’ name to theirs to make it an even half-dozen, in addition to the song-and-dance talents of a Gene Kelly or Donald O’Connor, and you’ve got some idea of what the veteran Southern California triple threat brings to the role.
Renee is every bit as terrific as Sally as she was as Polly in GCT’s Crazy For You, and wow what pipes she’s got. It’s great fun watching the always delightful Volpe playing snooty British bad girl Lady Jacquie. Ball, Kyle Kelley (Charles Heathersett), Jones, and Ricca provide expert comedic-vocal support as well, with Heather Blades (Lady Battersby), John Dickey (Sir Jasper Tring), Julia Rodriguez (Mrs. Brown), and Michael Shaughnessy (Lord Battersby) offering topnotch backup in smaller roles.
Best of all among the featured players is the glorious Leigh, besting even movie dowager extraordinaire Margaret Dumont in staring down stage adversary Michaels in contest after contest, proving that subtlety can match scenery-chewing when done as divinely as Leigh does it here.
Glendale Centre Theatre has once again come up with a stellar cast of triple-threats in ensemble roles, assistant choreographer Laurie Fedor, Seth Freed, Christa Hamilton, Greg Hardash, Brandon Heitkamp, Kevin Holmquist, Lyndell Higgins, Jacob Krech, Hisato Masuyama-Ball, Emily Parry, Paul Reid, Laurel Robinson, Calista Ruiz, and Christine Tucker not only delivering the goods from start to finish but clearly having the time of their lives doing so.
Not all adlibs work quite as well as they’re intended to, with some anachronistic jokes, like one about The Book Of Mormon, falling flat for being out of place in this period piece, however campy. But this is a minor quibble in a production as winning as this, with Alexander meriting extra directorial snaps for his mastery at staging Me And My Girl in the round.
Once again musical director Steven Applegate coaxes tiptop vocals from his cast, who perform to prerecorded tracks.
Angela Wood and Glendale Costumes have come up with at least a couple hundred splendid period outfits in all. (At least one performer has a grand total of eight costume changes.) And not only does Tim Dietlein once again score top marks for his ingenious in-the-round scenic design, but Alexander directs with equal ingenuity to insure that multiple scene changes take place without skipping a beat.
Laurel Robinson Dickow is production assistant. Carl Garcia is stage manager.
As last year’s productions of Hairspray, South Pacific, and Crazy For You made abundantly clear, Glendale Centre Theatre has no SoCal competition in musicals staged arena-style. (That’s theater talk for “in-the-round.”) Me And My Girl matches those 2013 hits, and then some,
You may not have heard of the long-running Broadway smash going in, but of one thing there is no doubt. You’ll be raving about Me And My Girl going out.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
March 5, 2014