Fans of the New York City Center Encores!, celebrating its 25th year, are consistently tuned into its mission of reviving past shows that have contributed to the history of theater. It isn’t a question of how good those shows once were, but of taking a fresh look at them, and presenting as satisfying a rediscovery as possible. In the case of “Me and My Girl,” Encores! has lavished a spiffy production ( May 9-13, 2018) with a winsome cast on the musical in a manner that shows why it was so popular originally and in revival. The ingredients mesh to provide delight for audiences curious to look into a corner of the theatrical past.
Yes, the book may be corny, a characteristic of so many good musicals, but the acting, the songs, the lyrics, the choreography, the staging and the ever-enticing performance by the large Encores! Orchestra are a revelation and reflect the changes made along the way since the original 1937 London production with music by the once-popular Noel Gay. The book and lyrics are by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, with the book revised by Stephen Fry with contributions by Mike Ockrent. In the process of the show’s evolvement, some original songs were jettisoned and other numbers by Gay were included.
As noted in the Playbill in an article by music director Rob Berman, the show’s number “The Lambeth Walk” touched off a dance craze in England. After a London revival in 1985, “Me and My Girl” was brought to Broadway in 1986, and it was a hit that ran for 1420 performances. Now Encores! audiences have been given a chance to see what the fuss was about in a staging far more than a concert revival, virtually a full-scale mounting directed with taste and insight by Warren Carlyle, who also provides dazzling choreography. The costume design by Emilio Sosa ranges from period-gorgeous to comedy-oriented flashiness.
Much of the fun is provided by Christian Borle, who is uproariously funny with his excellent timing in getting off zinger lines, plus his gift for broad, physical comedy. Here he plays Bill Snibson the mischievous Lambeth cut-up who is suddenly informed that he descends from the upper class and inherits wealth and a title. The plot, of course, satirizes the rich and mighty, with gaudily-dressed and amusingly ill-mannered Snibson shaking up their lives. There is also a crisis regarding his relationship with the woman he loves, Sally Smith, played and sung impressively and with charm by Laura Michelle Kelly, who doesn’t fit into the snobbish society.
There is also the enjoyable, sexy performance by Lisa O’Hare as Lady Jaqueline Carstone, who early on rebuffs the amusing Mark Evans as the indebted Hon. Gerald Bolingbroke, as she sings “Thinking of No One But Me” and vows to marry only for money. What O’Hare does with her legs and lithe figure in assorted gyrations is a sight to behold.
Wait--the busy plot has yet another romance to be resolved. Harriet Harris portrays Maria, Duchess of Dene, who takes it upon herself to try to educate Snibson, and has long been admired by Chuck Cooper as Sir John Tremayne, who will eventually try to get up courage to propose.
There are other aristocrats in the large cast including Simon Jones tippling as Lord Battersby and Suzanne Douglas as Lady Battersby, plus assorted servants and members of the company, most of whom get plenty of opportunity to join in singing the tuneful numbers of composer Gay.
The working out of the plot threads is merely the mechanism on which to hang the entertaining songs, including, for example. “Me and My Girl,” “You Would If You Could,” “Hold My Hand,” “Once You Lose Your Heart,” “The Sun Has Got His Hat On,” “Take It on the Chin,” “Love Makes the World Go Round” and “Leaning on a Lamp-Post.”
Scenic designer Allen Moyer has done a remarkable job with lean indicators that convey the required set-ups, such as a manor house backdrop, a major door entranceway, a winding staircase, the aforementioned lamp-posts and assorted furniture moved on and off stage. Rob Berman conducts the orchestra, which always is a main attraction in Encores! productions and is customarily visible throughout. Overall, this well-deserved and attractive revival of “Me and My Girl” has been particularly showered with enticing inventiveness and know-how. At New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street. Reviewed May 13, 2018.