Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Shaw Festival production of Me & My Girl well worth the wait

It seems unusual to be writing about a Shaw Festival show this late in the season, but for unforeseen reasons this past weekend was the first opportunity to attend a Shaw performance this year.  I am happy to report the wait was well worth it!

Although the so-called 'flagship musical' Me And My Girl opened in late May, seeing it this late in the season actually has some advantages:  firstly, the show runs like a finely tuned Maserati.  Nothing goes wrong and not a single bad note to be found anywhere.  Secondly, there was not an empty seat to be found in the house at the large Festival Theatre at last Sunday's matinee.  That cannot always be said early in the season as shows are staking out their territory for audience's affections.

Me And My Girl is a 1937 musical all the rage in pre-wartime England that faded from the spotlight somewhat until Stephen Fry revised the book for a 1985 revival of the show, updating things quite nicely.  The original book and lyrics were by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, with music by Noel Gay, a popular composer of the light-music genre back in the day.

Oh sure, some of the gag lines are just as bad as they were in 1937 - you can't change tradition too much, you know - but other than that, this is a vintage musical wearing a snappy new suit and freshly shined shoes.  And wearing a hat, as in the Act II opening number "The Sun Has Got His Hat On."

That's one of the popular songs not in the original show, and the production makes the most of the moment with comic star Kyle Blair as Gerald Bolingbroke leading the ensemble in full cricket gear to kick off the second half.

Two other popular numbers added also make you wonder why they were not in the show from the very beginning:  Noel Gay's ever-popular The Lambeth Walk closing out Act One and the sentimental ballad Leaning On a Lamp Post, sung by star Michael Therriault as cockney bumpkin Bill.

What's that, you say?  Michael Therriault from the Stratford Festival?  Yes it is, and without a doubt Michael was the first big "get" for new Shaw Festival Artistic Director Timothy Carroll.  We met up with Michael at one of the Foster Festival performances at the PAC this summer and he genuinely seemed to be happy to be down in Niagara for a change this year.

Therriault is both charming and exceedingly funny as the cockney Bill, a long-lost son of a wealthy British lord who is set to assume duties as the head of the Hereford Estate, providing he meets with the approval of executors of the estate, played with great hilarity by Shaw stalwarts Sharry Flett and Ric Reid.

There is little more to the thin plot here:  just enter the obligatory cockney girl-friend of Bill played with great charm and warmth by Kristi Frank who threatens to throw an ill-timed wrench into the proceedings by wanting to marry her man no matter what.  But alas, they might be able to smooth over one cockney to fill a need; Bill is told he will have to marry 'up' in order to keep up appearances.

Enter complication number two:  Elodie Gillett as the gold-digging Lady Jacqueline Carstone who has her eye on the prize and wants Bill, warts and all, for herself.

That's about all you need to know about the story here.  Basically it's boy has girl, boy risks losing girl as he moves up in the world, boy struggles to keep said girl while all around him work against him, boy finally winds up with a new and improved version of his girl after all.  What more do you need to know?

Sure it is well-trodden ground here, but hey, you are not expecting Saint Joan when you enter the theatre this time and as such, it would be hard to find fault with this show.

Indeed, the last two seasons have seen the big musical not hit the bullseye when it comes to ticket sales, so perhaps playing it safe this time around was as much a sound financial decision as an artistic one.  Carroll and Company need not worry though.  The full house on Sunday is proof they scored a winner with this show and that gives them some breathing room for next season.

The other notes on the show involve the exceptional work of Ashlie Corcoran, making her directorial debut at Shaw with this show, and the tasteful yet evocative sets and costumes designed by Drew Facey and Sue LePage, respectfully.

There was a sad note during the run, as the Festival had to announce the untimely passing of ensemble member Jonah McIntosh not long after the opening.  He was replaced by Stewart Adam McKensy who stepped into the role on short notice and never looked back.

You won't leave the theatre with any more answers to life's questions than when you entered.  But you will leave with the melody of The Lambeth Walk dancing in your head for days to come, and that is not a bad thing, really.

Me And My Girl rates a strong 4 out of 4 stars, and continues at the Festival Theatre until October 15th.  For tickets, call the Shaw box office or go to to order yours.

Have a great week!

September 27th, 2017.