Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's reviews of Hector Coris and Matt Newhard in Together (For No Good Reason), Postcards from the Apocalypse, and Curtains
The plot is fairly simple. Set in 1930s England, Bill Snibson, an unrefined, simple, and brash Cockney man, discovers he is the long-lost 14th Earl of Hareford. However, in order to receive his large inheritance he needs to become a sophisticated gentleman. Under his Aunt Maria's tutelage he is groomed to be suitable enough to win the family's approval but he is also forced to choose between either fitting in or losing his girl, the unsophisticated fishmonger's assistant Sally Smith. Will Bill choose the money or his girl?
While the show is a little rough in the beginning moments when it focuses on the stuffy Hareford family, once Bill enters the scene the fun and frivolity never stop. The clever script includes many moments of misunderstanding, including when Bill is offered an aperitif, a word he has never heard before, and he replies, "Thanks, I have my own." It takes a beat to realize he thinks he's being offered "a pair of teeth." On opening night once the audience got the joke and the many others like it that followed, they continually howled with laughter. My only quibble with this production is that there are a few jokes with modern references thrown in and, while they get big laughs, they aren't quite in the style of the show which focuses on period jokes and references.
Director and choreographer Cambrian James has found a gifted cast that adds freshness to this old-fashioned musical comedy. Vinny Chavez and Heidi-Lynn Johnson are superb as Bill and Sally. Having seen these two performers blossom over the past few years from ensemble members to featured roles and now into full-fledged leads has been a joy. They sing and dance skillfully, They also instill their roles with a natural ease full of charm and grace that makes the audience immediately fall in love with them both and their unpretentious and simple ways. Chavez' natural comic timing and adlibbing abilities are excellent. He is also adept at handling the required pratfalls, as well as delivering double takes, speaking humorous voices, and assaying the intricacies of cockney rhyming slang, all with humorous results. Johnson's strong vocal chops elevate her ballad "Once You Lose Your Heart" into an incredibly simple yet moving long song, and she infuses the sassy Sally with enough vulnerability to make you care for her even more.
The quartet of Hareford relatives who play into the plot include Charity Johansen and Mark Kleinman as Bill's interfering aunt Maria and uncle Sir John, and Jacqueline Brecker and Jeff Deglow as the gold-digger Lady Jacqueline and her continually rejected fiancé Gerald. All four do good work. Johansen and Kleinman are commanding and parental but also charming in their characters' continued attempts to make Bill into a gentleman and also to keep Sally and Bill apart. Brecker makes Lady Jackie into a spirited seductress in her attempts to win Bill's affection, with her performance of "You Would If You Could" playfully staged by James. Raymond Barcelo is simply joyful as the family solicitor, turning his bouncy song and dance number "The Family Solicitor," that features a few fun reprises, into a crowd pleaser.
James' direction infuses the whole production with a sense of enthusiasm and a fast pace but also keeps the comedy and situations fresh and frothy. His choreography is exceptional, with some fancy footwork for the ensemble in several numbers and he makes "The Lambeth Walk," "The Sun Has Got His Hat On," and "Song of Hareford" explode with giddy abandonment. Also, Chavez and Johnson deliver an infectious tap number in their performance of the title song. Music director Elizabeth Spencer achieves splendid results with the large cast.
Creative elements, as usual at Hale, are sublime. Brian Daily's set design is simple but works perfectly to evoke the various locations of the show. The costumes by Mary Atkinson are breathtaking, with a non-stop parade of smart evening and formal wear, plus floral and pastel dresses that are rich with embroidery and beaded embellishments. Jeff A. Davis' lighting is, as usual, exceptional and continually paints the stage in layers of color, shadow, and light. James' wig and make-up designs are period perfect.
While Me and My Girl may be a simple fish out of water story, it is also a good old-fashioned musical comedy. With an exceptional cast and James' continued excellent work, Hale's production is utterly delightful.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Me and My Girl runs through July 2nd, 2016, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181
Music by Noel Gay