It’s funny how two people can discover the same thing at once. Calculus. Oxygen. A neglected musical. Me and My Girl, hardly a household name even among connoisseurs of classic musical theater, is getting simultaneous revivals from 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco and Encores! in New York – two of the only companies in the country dedicated to “lost” musicals. Some musicals are lost for a reason (as past 42nd Street Moon outings have occasionally proven), but this one deserves it sudden resurgence in popularity. (There’s a production coming up in London, as well.) It’s clever, hilarious, and full of toe-tapping tunes.
1936. The noble Hareford family is searching for the long-lost heir to the title and estate. They find him in Bill Snibson – but with his lower-class accent and manners, he’s not at all ready for his new position! They must train him to take on his role, and above all they must separate him from his unsuitable “girl,” Sally Smith. Of course, this is musical comedy: after a series of reverses, love and rank are reconciled in time for a triple wedding.
The show’s biggest hit, “The Lambeth Walk,” spawned a dance craze. It still had audience members clapping and swaying along eighty years after its premiere.
The book (by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose, revised by Stephen Fry) is full of very British jokes playing on homophones, puns, and willful misinterpretations. They mostly land, both because this cast has excellent timing and because they’re just plain funny. There are inside jokes for musical theater fans, including references to Ruddigore and My Fair Lady. The music (by Noel Gay) features simple, catchy melodies that draw on jazz and operetta. The show’s biggest hit, “The Lambeth Walk,” spawned a dance craze. It still had audience members clapping and swaying along eighty years after its premiere.
A cast of triple threats sang lustily and tap-danced their way through the orchestral interludes. In typical topsy-turvy fashion, the aristocrats were the silliest characters. The over-the-top, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-esque family solicitor (Michael Barrett Austin) and the ditzy, gold-digging daughter of a duchess (Elise Youssef) provoked lots of laughs. The rare moments of serious drama belonged to clear-eyed, sweet-voiced Sally (Melissa WolfKlain) and strong-willed but bewildered Bill (Keith Pinto). The pair had compelling romantic chemistry and impeccably coordinated tap timing.
Classic musicals are hard to produce on a small scale, and the three-piece band and one-to-a-part choruses sometimes sounded thin and unbalanced. Absurd doublings within the same scenes were necessitated by the small cast, such as when most of the aristocratic party guests had to vanish in order to re-appear as Lambeth party crashers. That couldn’t kill the upbeat, feel-good fun of 42nd Street Moon’s Me and My Girl. I imagine the Encores! production currently running in New York has a bigger budget – but I can’t imagine it having more heart.