“The Boy Friend” may seem like a hard sell, but it’s fun and light-hearted.
The show, being performed by the Southern Regional Theatre Co. this Wednesday,
Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26, 27, 28 and March 1, at 7 p.m. at the
Joseph P. Echle Performing Arts Center in Southern Regional High School’s 9/10
building, didn’t produce any hit songs or standards even though it opened on
Broadway in 1954, when musical theater numbers were still a staple of radio
Sandy Wilson, the Englishman who wrote the show’s music, lyrics and book, is
not a household name like other British musical theater composers, such as
Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The show hasn’t been produced on Broadway since a 1970 revival.
It never won a Tony Award of any type, which is surprising considering Julie
Andrews made her Broadway debut – one day after her 19th birthday – as its lead
character, Polly Browne (Mary Martin won Best Actress in a Musical honors that
year for “Peter Pan”).
“The Boy Friend,” which opened in London’s West End in 1953, has always been
much more popular in Great Britain than in the United States. The original West
End production ran for 2,082 performances; the original Broadway production
Yep, it is a tough sell. When it had an early-season run at Beach Haven’s
Surflight Theatre last May and June, I gave it a thumbs-up review: “It’s all
fluff,” I wrote then, ”featuring nice but forgettable music and stock
characters. Yet this production, directed and choreographed by Norb Joerder,
entranced this reviewer, who is not normally a fluff fan.”
Despite the good review, “The Boy Friend” played to mostly sparse houses. Of
course, the summer season started off slowly on all of LBI in the wake of
Superstorm Sandy. Hopefully the area has recovered sufficiently to allow more
people to come out to this Southern production, directed by Jannah Tabbacchino
and choreographed by Jessica Evans. Because as I wrote last spring, “It made for
a good, if not challenging, evening of theater.”
Have no doubt, the show has a purposely silly book. It is set in a French
finishing school, Mme. Dubonnet’s (Melinda Gioe) School for Young Ladies, in
1920s France. All of the girls – Maisie (Lainey McCabe-Plenge), Dulcie (Madison
Ernst), Fay (Lauren Sopher) and Nancy (Samantha Foster-Tiso) have boyfriends
except for one English girl, Polly Browne (Taylor Sprague). Browne’s father,
Percival (Gavin Cranmer), is quite wealthy and has warned her against
golddiggers, so she doesn’t date, indeed is forced to make up a boyfriend to
avoid shame. There’s only one problem with her plan: A carnival ball is rapidly
approaching and her secret will be exposed unless she has a date.
Well, when her ball costume, ordered by the school’s maid, Hortense (Victoria
Sidorakis), arrives, it is delivered by Tony (Robert Connelly). They immediately
fall for each other. Polly pretends to be a poor girl so as not to scare the
mere delivery boy away. Little does she know that he is actually the son of Lord
(Christian Eberhard) and Lady (Grace Van Meter) Brockhurst who is pretending to
be poor so he can find a love who isn’t a social climber. Tony’s father
is somewhat of a lecher and his mother rather a nag, but the family is
definitely in Polly’s social class.
To make a long story short, Polly and Tony eventually straighten everything
out and get engaged to be married. In fact, all of the girls receive proposals
at the end of the show-ending ball from Bobby (Chris Reed), Marcel (Noah
Dondero), Pierre (Ian Mullin) and Alphonse (Austin Kriews). Even Percival Browne
and Mme. Dubonnet announce they’re getting hitched. See, silly. But fun!
“‘The Boy Friend’ takes us to the free-spirited fun of the 1920s French
Riviera,” wrote Tabbacchino in a program note. “Though the writing and content
of this work may come across as simple, or void of depth, it reflects exactly
what the population craved at that time. The ‘Roarin’ ’20s,’ fondly referred to
by the French as ‘années folles,’ meaning ‘crazy years,’ allowed
society to break free from the feelings of devastation of the First World War,
and ultimately let loose and enjoy the simple pleasures of life (whether it be
via a chic short haircut, or the fabulous flailing of the Charleston!).”
Just as it took a few years for people to recover from WWI, it has taken a
full year and more for people to recover from Sandy. Maybe, unlike last spring,
local theatergoers are finally ready to break free from the feelings of
devastation and enjoy the free-spirited fun “The Boy Friend” can provide.
Here’s another selling point for “The Boy Friend”: tickets are a mere $10 for
adults and $8 for students. They may be purchased at the door starting at 6 p.m.
before each performance.
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