Sunday, August 9, 2009

Me and My Girl, Mercury Summer Stock

(Jennifer Myor as Sally and Brian Marshall as Bill)

If you like the idea of a lustrous red robe trimmed in “vermin” and a man who, when beset by assorted tribulations, cries out: “Infamy! You all have it infamy!” then your pun ship has docked. It’s Me and My Girl, the 1937 musical that is being given a delightful, if occasionally uneven, production now at Mercury Summer Stock in Parma.

Set in 1930’s England, in an upper-crust manse and a some low-end dives, this send-up of class warfare British style is sort of a My Fair Lady for the opposite gender. It seems that a pickpocket from the mean streets of Lambeth, Bill Snibson, has been determined to be the heir to the title of Earl of Hareford. So Duchess Maria and Sir John Tremayne are saddled with the task of tutoring brash Bill in the ways of proper etiquette and such, so that he can glom onto his inheritance.

Of course, we’ve seen this all before, but the book and lyrics (L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber) and the music (Noel Gay) turn what could be a period snoozer into much more than that. And the MSS production, under the crisp direction of Pierre-Jacques Brault, has such an infectious sense of joy that it melts all defenses.

A major reason for the evening’s success is that the central role of Bill is played by Brian Marshall, a performer who seems electrically charged from the moment he hits the stage. Whether he’s dancing, executing pratfalls, or mangling the King’s English, Marshall is confident and in total control. Even though his singing is a bit weak, Marshall knows how to make a tune succeed even when the notes are a bit faint or slightly off key.

He is matched nicely by Jennifer Myor as Bill’s heartthrob Sally, another denizen of the streets who is due for a makeover. Myor’s vocals, especially on “Once You Lose Your Heart,” are well crafted and deeply felt. Also excellent is Hester Lewellen as the uptight Maria.

Smaller roles are a bit of a mixed bag. As Sir John, the man who surreptitiously helps Sally clean up her speaking style, Jon Fancher never seems to find a clear attack, so the humor that could be generated by this character is muted. The young couple of nobility, Jacquie and Gerald, are given a sharp turn by hot-to-trot Bailey Carter Moulse and a spectacularly tight-assed Brett Parr. And as the virtually mute Sir Jasper Tring, Joseph A. McIntyre has a comically blank stare that is oddly hypnotic.

Although a few of the songs are quite forgettable, there are a couple musical highlights. In one, “The Family Solicitor” trills about his role to the cadence of Gilbert and Sullivan, In his role as attorney Herbert Parchester, Dan CiCello lands some amusing verses even though he appears near exhaustion at times. And the Act One showstopper, “The Lambeth Walk,” is performed by the entire company, on stage in the aisles, with such exuberance that it’s hard to remain seated and not join in.

Excellent costuming, a hard-working bare-bones keyboard orchestra, and some ambitious set design effects (the animated portraits almost work) contribute to the overall sense of a theater company going all out to deliver a great show. And while this Me and My Girl may not be great in every sense, it’s sure to send you on your way smiling and humming “The Lambeth Walk.”

Me and My Girl
Through August 22, produced by
Mercury Summer Stock, at
Parma Little Theatre, 6285 W. 54th Street,
Parma, 216-771-5862

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