Reviewed by Will Stackman
In this era of jukebox musicals, it's a relief to sit back and take in an homage to the frivolous entertainments of the '20s. Sandy Wilson's "The Boy Friend" is a tribute to a time when popular musical theatre on both sides of the pond was dipping its toes into the rising tide of syncopation and combining this new energy with tried and true song and dance from vaudeville and the music halls, with operetta lurking in the wings. Julie Andrews, who made her Broadway debut in this show in 1954, has taken this period piece beyond a pleasant recreation of the original to the level of contemporary musical entertainment. She's helped immensely by a gorgeous production design created by her first spouse, multiple award-winner Tony Walton and his associates, Kelly Hanson(set), and Rachel Navarro (costumes) The show has the feel of period illustrations turned into a giant toy theatre for this bijou, with a sundrenched Mediterranean palette to match. Good speed Musicals casting roster has rounded up a first-rate ensemble of experienced Broadway performers ready for an energetic show, with impeccable music supervision by their own Michael O'Flaherty and F. Wade Russo as conductor. Choreographer John DeLuca has mined the dance styles of the period while clearly in sync with contemporary trends. His dance numbers have the originality of sincere imitation, without signature moves or hip-hop intrusions. After its summer run in Connecticut, this show is ready for a 50th anniversary on Broadway.
Wilson has carefully emulated the three act structure of musical comedies from the period and the companies that played them. His romantic leads, Polly and Tony, both scions of rich families, here played by Jessica Grove and Sean Palmer are struck by love at first sight and pretending to be poor, a device that was old when the commedia dell'arte used it in the Renaissance. Vigorous comic activity, however, is left up to the secondary couples in this romance. There's Maisie and Bobby, the flapper and the playboy, played by Andrea Chamberlin and Rick Faugno, with high energy dance numbers throughout, starting with "Won't You Charleston With Me." There are also older couples, notably Nancy Hess as Mme. Dubonnet, the head mistress of the finishing school Polly attends there in Nice and Paul Carlin as Polly's father, millionaire Percival Browne. The two are naturally intimate old friends with two stylish numbers signaling their reawakened attraction. Tony's parents, Lord and Lady Brockhurst who show up to complicate matters, played by Drew Eshelman and Darcy Pulliam, never sing together. Lord Herbert instead is the senior low comic intent on chasing the girls. He gets to do a bit of clever musical hall in "It's Never to Late to Fall in Love" with comedienne Kirsten Wyatt as Dulcie. And of course, this being essentially a farce, there's the clever servant, housekeeper Hortense, played with the British version of a comic French accent by Bethe Austin. Her parody number, "It's Nicer in Nice," is bolstered by the most inventive choreography in the show and lyrics with a touch of Hart. Part of "The Boy Friend"'s charm is its comfortable predictability.
The rest of the girls and boys of the ensemble, Margot De La Barre (Nancy), Krysta Rodriguez (Fay), Jordan Cable (Marcel), Scott Barnhardt (Alphonse), Andrew Briedis (Pierre), Eric Daniel Santagata (Phillipe) and Pamela Otterson (Monica) play smart young things to perfection, particularly in the third act after the intermission, when the show shifts into concert party mode. Maisie gets to do "Safety in Numbers" with the boys, the ensemble introduces the latest dance craze, "The Rivera" , Eshelman and Wyatt have their eleven o'clock number noted above, Monica and Phillipe appear as "Pepe" and "Lolita" in a comic tango, and Mme. Dubonnet and Polly do a bit of operetta in the penultimate duet, "Poor Little Pierette." There aren't really any stars in the show, just a tight ensemble of willing performers, waiting their turn in the spotlight. Since the audience knows everything will work out, it's time for entertainment. The only message in "The Boy Friend" is the old theatrical standby summed up in the first act closer, "I Could be Happy With You, (If You Could Be Happy With Me)."
The only question is whether Broadway's ready for another retro show rather than "(Some Movie)-the Musical". There aren't any whiz-bang effects, just eighteen people ready to entertain with snappy cracks and old jokes, hummable tunes and agreeable lyrics. The whole family can go. The only thing to explain is just which silent movie stars the carnival costumes in the third act might represent.