Another Song & Dance Take on the Pygmalion Story
Shaw’s Pygmalion – the story of the Cockney flower girl who passed for a member of the upper class, thanks to speech lessons – was fashioned into the musical My Fair Lady and again into the 1990 movie Pretty Woman. But Me and My Girl gives us the story of a young Cockney man being cleaned up and dressed to take his place as an English lord.
This musical isn’t as well-known as My Fair Lady, but it’s just as much fun, with catchy tunes and amazing tap dancing. With a very lively and energetic cast, now on stage at the Shaw’s Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Me and My Girl is an old-fashioned, good-time musical comedy.
Bill Snibson suddenly learns that he is heir to a lordship and a grand estate. He is willing to take on the role with some training from the upper crust relatives, but only if his girl, Sally Smith, can join him. Sally is seen as an unsuitable mate for the heir to Hareford Hall.
Michael Therriault excels as Bill Snibson. Therriault is an entertaining cross between Dick Van Dyke and Robin Williams. He handles the trips, leaps and pratfalls like a hilarious Van Dyke, while his fast-paced delivery and quick prattle is reminiscent of Williams. Therriault charms the audience with his song and dance.
Kristi Frank is a charismatic Sally Smith with a delightful Cockney accent. Therriault and Frank have an endearing chemistry, and the audience is rooting for their continued romance.
Kyle Blair is perfect as the snobby Bolingbroke and Elodie Gillett is excellent as his money-loving fiancée Lady Jacqueline. Sharry Flett, as the Duchess who attempts to groom Bill, commands the stage. Ric Reid is outstanding as her foil, Sir John. The rest of the cast and the ensemble members are excellent, offering rousing vocals and energetic dance.
Most of us here in Canada probably aren’t familiar with this musical or its tunes. But we sat next to an elderly British couple who sang along with several of the songs. The only song I know is “Leaning on the Lamp Post”, thanks to the rock band Herman’s Hermits, which had made it a hit in the sixties. “The Lambeth Walk”, an upbeat funny song and dance number, closes act I. When the lawyer reviews the inheritance, there is great fun with “The Family Solicitor”, and then British history is covered in a lively number where the portraits on the wall of the mansion come to life.
You might be concerned about the many cheesy jokes jammed into the show, but somehow this brilliant cast pulls it off. There is plenty of crazy Cockney rhyming slang . In fact, when Bill puts on a royal red velvet cape with an ermine collar, Sally calls it vermin. It turns out that indeed, a mouse is living in the fur, and it eventually gets tossed into the orchestra pit. Puns and corny jokes abound, with many old chestnuts such as “Do you like Kipling?” to which the answer is “I don’t know, I’ve never kippled.”
Me and My Girl was written in 1936. References are made to Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle – I’m not sure if these are from the original 1930s’ script, in which case, it goes back to Shaw’s Pygmalion which was first staged in 1913. Or perhaps these mentions are from the 1986 updates, when people would be more familiar with 1960s’ My Fair Lady. Either way, it’s amusing to hear the Shaw references, while sitting in the Shaw Festival Theatre.
Director Ashlie Corcoran and choreographer Parker Esse have turned this old script into a lively frolic. Its insight into the divide between upper and lower class still rings true today. But for the most part it is just a boisterous romp, which any musical theatre fan will love.
Me and My Girl continues in repertoire at The Shaw Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 15. For tickets, visit www.shawfest.com or call 1-800-511-SHAW(7429).
Photo: Left: Kristi Frank as Sally Smith and Michael Therriault as Bill Snibson in Me and My Girl. Right: Ensemble and Kyle Blair and Elodie Gillett. Photos by David Cooper.
Me and My Girl
Book and Lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber
Book revised by Stephen Fry, contributions by Mike Ockrent
Music by Noel Gay
Directed by Ashlie Corcoran
Musical Direction by Paul Sportelli
Choreographed by Parker Esse
Performed by Michael Therriault, Kristi Frank, Kyle Blair, Elodie Gillett, Sharry Flett, Ric Reid, et al
Produced by The Shaw Festival
Shaw Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake
April 5 to October 15, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson