Southern Regional’s ‘Me and My Girl’ Could Have ’Em Dancing in the Aisles
The British are coming, the British are coming! The Southern Regional Theatre Co. is presenting “Me and My Girl” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday through Saturday, March 1 through 4, at the Joseph P. Echle Performing Arts Center located in the school’s 9/10 building on the Southern Regional High School campus. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and may be purchased at the door starting at 6 p.m. before each performance.
Back to the British ...
Those rascals have invaded the U.S. three times since we threw them out in the Revolutionary War. The first time was during the War of 1812, when they torched many buildings in Washington, D.C., including the Capitol and White House – talk about draining the swamp! Then came the British Invasion of the early- and mid-1960s when bands such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, The Who and The Animals shot to the top of the American charts and made “The Ed Sullivan Show” the original Must-See TV. Finally, the British got around to invading Broadway in the 1970s and especially the 1980s, led by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had blockbuster after blockbuster, including “Evita,” “Cats” and, of course, “The Phantom of the Opera.” Other shows by English producer Cameron Mackintosh followed, such as “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon.” Even something as all-American sounding as Disney had a British flavor, considering Elton John and Tim Rice wrote the songs for “The Lion King” and Rice contributed the lyrics for “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Me and My Girl,” with music by Joel Gay and a book and lyrics by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose, joined the transatlantic parade in 1986. It was sort of an immigrant grandmother, considering it had opened on London’s West End way back in 1937.
But there was a successful West End revival in 1984. Then the Broadway version was a smash; it ran for 1,420 performances.
Set in the 1930s, the plot of “Me and My Girl” is a simple one, sort of “Pygmalion” on steroids. Bill Snibson (Alex Henderson) is the secret son of the 13th Earl of Hareford, a secret even to Bill, who was raised by his mother in the working class East London neighborhood of Lambeth. When the earl’s will is opened upon his death, Bill is revealed and named the estate’s heir, but there is an important codicil – the rough-hewn Cockney must prove capable of acting like a gentleman to the satisfaction of the estate’s executors, Maria, Duchess of Dene (Laura Hunt) and Sir John Tremayne (Jacob Morrison), assisted by the family solicitor, Herbert Parchester (Matteo Mastrogiovanni).
The task would be about equivalent to retraining a coal miner to be a nuclear engineer. Even the manor’s servants, headed by the housekeeper, Hethersett (Adina Paciello), find Bill lacking in the social graces:
He takes his food with a horrid zest,
He eats one half and he wears the rest!
Though it may be true that his blood is blue:
It is nothing like as purple as his language!
And taming Bill isn’t the only problem. There’s also the matter of his girl, Sally Smith (Carly Sica), as rough and tumble as the heir apparent.
There are other complications. Lady Jacqueline Carstone (Christine Suddeth) is engaged to Gerald Bolingbroke (Connor Morgan), but she would dump him in an instant for the chance to ensnare the 14th Earl of Hareford and his fortune. Meanwhile, Julia is worried Bill will be unredeemable if Sally remains in the picture. Sir John develops a soft spot for the young couple to go along with the unrequited soft spot he already has for Julia.
Look, this is a musical comedy from 1937! You know it has a happy ending. The trick, though, is how, exactly, everything will be worked out, a trick this writer won’t give away.
As mentioned earlier, “Me and My Girl” didn’t arrive on Broadway until 1986. But a song and dance from the show, “The Lambeth Walk,” hit America and the European mainland in a big way in 1938, creating a dance. It is still as fine a piece of musical theater as was ever written, a sure showstopper if it wasn’t the Act 1 finale.
Still, the show, which also includes other fine songs such as “Me and My Girl,” “The Sun Has Got His Hat On” and “Leaning on a Lamp-post,” would sometimes seem dated if it weren’t for the fresh performances of the Southern Regional cast. Sica is wonderfully brassy in both voice and manner as Sally, Suddeth successfully mimes the screen vixens of the 1930s, and Hunt could have a career in opera.
But it is Henderson who steals the show as an energetic Bill with a smooth crooner’s voice and, underneath his brash exterior, very smooth movements and considerable charm. It never ceases to amaze how much talent can be found in the high schools of this country.
It is enough to make me want to jump up and stroll the Lambeth Walk.