by Brian Scott Lipton
Anyone who has ever made (or eaten) English trifle knows that you need the right ingredients, in the right proportion, or this singular dessert will taste too sweet, too gooey or too stale. The same recipe and care must be taken with musical English trifles like 1937’s “Me and My Girl,” and luckily for City Center Encores, director-choreographer Warren Carlyle proves to be the perfect pastry chef.
Although the show took Broadway by storm in 1986 (running for three years), it’s definitely more of a crowd-pleasing confection rather than substantial nourishment. Indeed, the thin-as-wafer book concerns Cockney charmer Bill Snibson (Christian Borle), who is discovered to be the long-lost Earl of Hareford, but who is happy to relinquish the title and wealth that come with it if he can’t remain with his girlfriend Sally Smith (Laura Michelle Kelly). That plan is heartily opposed by his aunt Maria, the Duchess of Dene (Harriet Harris), but there’s little question how the battle will end.
Fortunately, there are a good number of witty lines (some I believe recently added) to keep us amused throughout the two-plus hours, and while the show’s score (by Noel Gay) is more pleasant than memorable, you’ll probably be singing “Doing the Lambeth Walk,” (the infectious first act finale) for days.
But the best reason to go is to witness the superb choreography, especially the tap numbers, that Carlyle has cleverly created and which is executed expertly by the entire cast. For example, watching Borle, a magnificent physical comedian, and the spirited and canary-voiced Kelly dance on a tabletop during the title number is almost as fine as a sight as you’ll see currently on a New York stage.
Similarly, the ultra-energetic Act two opener, “The Sun Has Got His Hat On,” led by the handsome, agile Mark Evans and the delicious, loose-limbed Lisa O’Hare (as secondary couple Gerald Bolingbroke and Jacquelyn Carstone) is pure joy from the start to finish, with the sublime ensemble showing off their hoofing abilities to the utmost. And it’s great fun when some of Bill’s ancestors leave their painting frames and put on the old soft shoe during the silly “Song of Hareford”
Moreover, all the supporting roles are extremely well cast. Harris utilizes her signature mixture of martini-dry wit and commanding presence to concoct the often-terrifying but ultimately vulnerable Maria. Don Stephenson is hilarious as the family’s self-serving solicitor, Douglas Parchester. Chuck Cooper, always a welcome presence, initially feels a tad out of place as Maria’s love interest, Sir John Tremayne; but his duet with Borle, “Love Makes the World Go Round” is a true treat. And simply having such beloved veterans as Bill Buell, Simon Jones, John Horton and Suzanne Douglass on stage, even in barely-there roles, adds to the ambiance.
The show’s physical production is also right on the money, thanks primarily to Allen Moyer’s simple-enough, one-tiered sets (which still leave enough room for the magnificent Encores orchestra, led by Rob Berman) and Emilio Sosa’s period-perfect costumes, which run from lavish gowns to tennis whites and everything in between.
Indeed, if you’re looking for someplace to go this weekend, head down to Hareford/City Center. It will make going back to work on Monday much easier!
Photos: Joan Marcus
“Me and My Girl” continues at New York City Center (131 West 55thStreet. 212-581-1212) through May 13.