"Lambeth Walk" as Fast as You Can to Me and My Girl
New York City Center Encores! revives a 1937 musical to conclude its 25th anniversary season.
New York City Center Encores! caps its 25th anniversary season with an enchanting revival of the 1937 Noel Gay musical Me and My Girl. Last (and heretofore only once) performed in New York in the mid-1980s, this British confection, with a score by Gay, book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, and revisions by Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent, is theater at its silliest. And that's what Encores! does best.
Christian Borle plays Bill Snibson, a Cockney fruit monger thrust into nobility when the aristocratic Hareford family discovers that he is the heir to the title of Earl. There's only one catch: in order to obtain his fortune, Bill must satisfy the executors of the estate — namely, his haughty duchess aunt, Maria (Harriet Harris) — by dumping his Lambeth girlfriend Sally (Laura Michelle Kelly) and becoming a classy gentleman. The most beguiling kind of chaos ensues.
Though it took the company a little bit of time to warm up during the opening-night performance, this Me and My Girl, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, is a delight from start to finish. Even when the book scenes teetered, Carlyle's staging smartly played to his actors' strengths.
Harris's expertly comedic mugging, Kelly's sweet melancholy during "Once You Lose Your Heart," Don Stephenson's brilliantly droll elocution of "The Family Solicitor" as barrister Douglas Parchester, and Chuck Cooper, in general, as Sir John Tremayne, are an embarrassment of riches that only a weeklong Encores! show could provide. As Lady Jacqueline Carstone and Gerald Bolingbroke, Lisa O'Hare and Mark Evans stop the show cold with the second-act opener, "The Sun Has Got His Hat On," a seriously exciting tap number that shows the full extent of Carlyle's creative imagination.
Borle is perhaps the only actor who could inject a "YAS" into an 80-year-old script and get away with it to sidesplitting effect. At the peak of his comedic powers, Borle is brilliantly showboaty without ever crossing the line that sends him over the top. Flouncing around the stage and leaving us all in stitches, he also knows exactly when to tug at the heartstrings, warmly performing the eleven o'clock soft-shoe "Leaning on a Lamp-Post." He's got an ideal partner in Kelly, once the Mary Poppins to his Bert, and the fun they're having is clearly apparent from start to finish.
And then there's the "Lambeth Walk," the act-one finale that spawned a real-life dance craze in the late '30s and now receives cheers when the orchestra plays its first notes. Carlyle's vision for the number is a nod to Gillian Gregory's choreography from the 1986 production, taking up the full stage and band shell of Allen Moyer's set and spilling out into the audience. This genuine earworm goes on for what feels like 20 verses, features multiple key changes, and the entire cast playing the spoons. It's the highlight of the show, the best production number of the season in New York City, and a perfect way for Encores! to conclude its first quarter-century. You won't be able to get it out of your head, but you won't want to, either.