Apart from knowing this was the show that launched the career of the legendary Julie Andrews, that’s about all I knew of the 1920s-inspired musical, The Boy Friend – an embarrassing admission, perhaps.
But unlike other successful and much-revived musicals of the 1950s, I think it’s fair to say the individual songs from The Boy Friend are not as widely known.
In one way that’s a shame but in another it’s more of an opportunity for an ensemble like the Production Company because the show retains a delightful freshness – and dare I say a cute, camp charm.
It can avoid many of the pitfalls of other shows with much-anticipated big numbers, and instead work as whole, skipping happily along from one ‘gay’ tune to another, as this production directed by Gary Young certainly does.
Originally conceived as an affectionate parody of the shows that writer Sandy Wilson grew up with in the 1920s and 30s such as No, No, Nanette and Anything Goes, the Boy Friend was a huge hit after its premiere on the West End in 1954 and later that year in New York, starring the 21 year-old Andrews.
Set on the French Riviera during the 1920s, the show opens at a finishing school for young ladies, attended by millionaire’s daughter Polly (Esther Hannaford) and her friend Maisie (Christie Whelan), and run by the formidable but charming Madam Dubonnet (Rhonda Burchmore).
One of the first songs of the show is the title number, and the ensemble immediately generate an infectious mood with quirky, up-beat choreography by Andrew Hallsworth, which transitions seamlessly into the cheeky, toe-tapping Won’t You Charleston with Me?
This number is performed brilliantly by Whelan and Tim Campbell as Maise’s persistent American beau Bobby. They have an obvious chemistry and playfulness that comes across both in this number and in the later Safety in Numbers, where they are delightfully tongue-in-cheek, both making the most of every comic opportunity.
Hannaford and Alex Rathgeber are equally well cast as Polly and rich-kid-posing-as-errand-boy Tony, capturing their sweet, naive charm, but pitching their performances perfectly – so we can also smirk at their extreme youth and naive dreams.
Their first duet I Could Be Happy With You is simply and deftly sung, while in the later A Room in Bloomsbury their precise diction and purity of tone helps bring out the gentle parody within the lyrics. Likewise the clever mime interlude here is a great comic touch.
It’s very hard to single out all of the highlights in this show but Kellie Rode’s turn as Hortense, Madam Duonet’s housekeeper, is certainly a triumph, particularly in the hilarious showstopper It’s Nicer in Nice, where she not only punches out a great tune but dances herself into a frenzy, finishing with a full cartwheel across the stage.
Burchmore and Grant Smith, as Polly’s wealthy father, work well together and do a fine rendition of the You-Don’t-Want-To-Play-With-Me Blues while the experienced Robert Grubb and Robyn Arthur as Bobby’s befuddled parents, Lord and Lady Brockhurst, round the out show beautifully.
Best of all Orchestra Victoria are spot on all the way through, making this production a you-don’t-want-to-miss-this-one show.