By Lori Bosworth
The Shaw Festival’s marquee play, Me and My Girl, is now playing at the Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The musical, with book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber and music by Noel Gay, is a critique of the British class system, mocking the upper class’s leisurely lifestyle and the difficulty of rising up from the lower to upper classes. Taking place in the 1930s, the story focuses on Bill Snibson, a Cockney from Lambeth who finds out that he is in fact the fourteenth Earl of Hareford. The problem is, in order to claim the title and inheritance, he must learn to behave like a gentleman and leave his lower class girlfriend behind. His aunt believes Snibson can be reformed, but not his girlfriend, Sally.
The first few scenes are, to put it bluntly, a bit stuffy as the characters’ dialogue focuses on setting up the plot. Once this obligatory task is done, the musical picks up speed and energy. In fact, Act 1 closes with “The Lambeth Walk,” a big, showstopping number with a great dance sequence (think MGM Studios) that is not only catchy, but pushes the plot forward by merging the upper and lower classes.
Sharry Flett as the snobby Maria, Duchess of Dene, brings a commanding presence to the stage. Ric Reid as Sir John Tremayne was astoundingly funny in the frivolous drunk scene with Snibson. Kristi Frank is sparkling and spunky as Sally Smith, Snibson’s girlfriend, and showcases a singing voice with a lovely tone. Michael Therriault as Snibson is an absolute delight. Therriault brings cavalier charm and humour to the role, as well as elegant dance moves.
Steven Fry’s revised book includes witty dialogue full of double entendres and references iconic film moments including Henry Higgins in Pygmalion and Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain.
Parker Esse’s choreography is another of the great charms of this musical, including snappy tap dance sequences in “The Sun Has Got His Hat On,” and “Hold My Hand,” and a jovial jig performed by the family solicitor Parchester played with infectious enthusiasm by Jay Turvey.
Drew Facey’s glorious set features two grand staircases on either side of the stage. The versatile set turns at 90 degrees to reveal a library and also converts to an East London street scene. The clever set design includes “ancestors” looking down upon Snibson from the picture frames in the library.
Sue LePage’s gorgeous silver and gold costumes at the ball symbolize the upper class’s wealth. Knee high slits in society dresses allow for daring choreography.
Me and My Girl is an extravagant production reminiscent of the big musicals of the mid 20th century. You’ll walk out of the theatre whistling “The Lambeth Walk” and having been fully entertained!
Me and My Girl is being performed at the Festival Theatre at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 15, 2017. Purchase tickets online or at the Box Office.