I’m Just Wild About Harry, Gary Lamb and William A. Reilly’s Americanized musicalization of Brandon Thomas’s classic 1892 British farce Charley’s Aunt, is back for the holidays with an all new cast but the same proven blend of gender-bending screwball fun and frolic, early 20th-century song hits, and happily-ever-after romance that have made it a crowd-pleasing Crown City hit not once but twice.
1892 Oxford has morphed into 1911 Old Milwaukee, and co-protagonist Charley Wyckeham has been redubbed the more American-sounding Harry Whitman, the better to match the show’s title song, but for the most part adapters Lamb and Reilly stick close to Thomas’s time-proven plot.
Harry (David Jurbala) still has a roommate name Jack Chesney (Michael J. Marchak), but the duo’s girlfriends (Jolie Adamson and Amy Segal) have new names for reasons that will be obvious to anyone familiar with 1920’s “Margie” and 1918’s “K-K-K-Katy.”
As in Charley’s Aunt, our two heroes want nothing more than to propose to their ladies fair, but there’s a hitch: Neither girl is allowed 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.
On a more fortuitous note, the boys’ music professor Benjamin “Babbs” Babberey (Michael Mullen) happens to be appearing as Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest, and has shown up at their door, costume in suitcase in hand.
Adding to the madcap mix are Katy’s grouchy uncle “Old Spettigue” (Kristian Steel), Jack’s recently penniless father Frank (Ryan Thor), Babbs’ lost love Ida Delahay (Renee Cohen), and the real Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez (Michelle Holmes), giving the boys not one but two Aunt Lucias to juggle.
A show-stopping show opener (“Musical Comedy Show,” a 1919 ditty that sounds like it could have been written yesterday) and deliberately corny jokes (“Where can I find a one-legged dog?” “Right where you left it.”) cue us in from the get-go that we’re about to be musically-comedically entertained, and the songs (including “Look For The Silver Lining,” “Runnin’ Wild,” and “You Made Me Love You,” some featuring Lamb’s additional lyrics) and laughs don’t let up from then on.
With Lisaun Whittingham, who played Ida the last time round, returning to co-direct with Reilly and choreograph for 2016, I’m Just Wild About Harry is both sophisticated enough to please your most Broadway-savvy musical theater queen and sufficiently family-friendly to charm your churchgoing maiden aunt.
Despite a bit of Opening Night line-fluffing and occasional difficulty staying on the musical beat, performances are all-around delights.
Chewing the scenery with infectious glee as the aunt in spite of him/herself, Mullen is surrounded by as zany a bunch as any cross-dresser could wish for, beginning with the charming and vocally talented Adamson, Jurbala, Marchak, and Segal, whose more seasoned counterparts, the divine Holmes and the amusingly harrumphy Thor, make for a terrific pair of long-lost lovers.
Still, it’s the chameleonlike Cohen, vanishing inside Ida’s prim-and-proper skin, and Steel’s improbably aged “Old Spettigue,” redubbed Guido this time round to suit the actor’s smoldering Mediterranean looks, who prove the evening’s surprise comedic standouts, with special snaps to Cohen’s crystal-clear vocals.
Last (and least), Steven Stanley stepped into the cameo role of Dona Fredericka De Sanchez at the performance reviewed.
Whittingham’s bouncy choreography pays tribute to early 20th Century music hall spiced with contemporary Broadway pizzazz, while musical director/arranger Reilly provides his accustomed blend of live piano accompaniment and prerecorded tracks.
Zad Potter’s set design (a cleverly detailed 1910 campus apartment featuring Joanne McGee’s fine scenic painting) is a winner as is Potter’s lighting, with special snaps to L.A. design star Mullen’s gorgeous bunch of early 20th Century fashions complemented by Byron J. Batista’s period wigs. Lucas Dunwoody’s sound and music design is topnotch too. Caleb Russel is violinist.
Rolando J. Vargas is assistant director. Potter is production stage manager and Michael Pammit is house manager.
This reviewer went wild for I’m Just Wild About Harry in 2011 and had every bit as much fun the second time round. With most of L.A. theater shut down till early January, the latest from Crown City proves manna from holiday season heavens.
UPDATE: A December 30 return visit confirms I’m Just Wild About Harry to be a bona fide crowd-pleaser. Opening Night rough edges have been smoothed out and a couple of absolutely lovely Margie/Katy alternates (Christina Rose and Sarah Beth Comfort) offer their own charming takes on Jack and Harry’s romantic interests. In addition, this reviewer found himself paying particular attention to the musical contributions (and occasional sound effects) provided by violinist Russel.
Crown City Theater, St. Matthew’s Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.
December 15, 2016