by Peter Haas
It was Britain, in 1949. The war was over, and — writes Barry Day, Literary Advisor to the Noel Coward Society — Coward, who had reinvented himself from his humble beginnings to fraternize with the rich and famous, wanted to show his sympathy for the lower classes. The result: “Hoi Polloi,” the story of a London grocer’s daughter who meets a sailor on his 24-hour leave, and brings him home to meet her family.
As produced for a two-week engagement by Musicals Tonight!, presented at the Lion Theater on way-west 42nd Street, the piece — with libretto, music and lyrics by Coward — offers a warm, charming, often moving and thoroughly delightful evening, with a talented cast in a sweet-spirited production. Says Day, who edited the work for this production: “The musical offers perspective on a working-class family by someone outside it (the sailor), and reflects the British people putting their lives back together.”
The tiny Lion Theater stage and its loft are imaginatively put to use by the show’s director/choreographer, Mindy Cooper. The stage is also where the orchestra sits, in the form of a single piano, richly played throughout by music director and vocal arranger David B. Bishop. The instrument so blends in with the stage setting that I wasn’t sure where the music was coming from until the house lights came on at the end. Changes of locale from scene to scene are silently heralded by placards hung on the back wall.
The cast — acting, singing and dancing — is among the finest you’ll see on any stage. The daughter of the family, Pinkie, is played with sweet feistiness by Katrina Michaels, who sings like a lark. The sailor who comes into her life is played appealingly by tall, slim Johnny Wilson, while Pinkie’s parents are played and sung with music hall zest by Deb Cardona and Tom Gamblin. A second set of romantic partners is played neatly by Oakley Boycott and Conor M. Hamill.
The score is a rich one, with two Coward classics, “Sail Away” and “London Pride,” as well as a dozen-plus more songs that include “In a Boat on a Lake,” “Why Does Love Get in the Way So?,” “Evening in Summer,” a riotous “Three Theatrical Dames” (sung by three burly men in drag), and “Chase Me Charlie (Over the Garden Wall)” sung by Deb Cardona as Pinkie’s mother, Fanny, a former music hall performer.
“Hoi Polloi” continues at The Lion Theater through November 13. www.musicalstonight.org