The initial 2017 opening week at the Shaw Festival ended with a most welcome and veritable bang! After three plays with largely serious subject matter (coated with varying degrees of sugar-coated humour for two of them, the finale—a seldom produced musical from 1937: Noel Gay composer, book and lyrics by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose, masterfully refurbished in 1980 from the ever-zany Stephen Fry—was a wonderful combination of sight, sound (save and except for the unneeded electronic reinforcement as usual) and talent.
The world could well use many more helpings of plots that don’t matter along with infectious energy, groaning humour artfully delivered (Duchess of Dene: “When I’m in the dumps, I buy a hat.” Sir John Tremayne: “Oh that’s where you get them.” ka-boom!), and full-bore company production numbers that make you want to cheer, hoot and holler with the delight of seeing, hearing and feeling a group of women and men of all ages and backgrounds exuberantly celebrating the exquisite joy of working together and sharing that experience with others.
The production staff are an intriguing mix of newcomers and veterans. Nurturing Ashlie Corcoran’s stagecraft in both the Directors Project and a few assistant director assignments has paid off in spades as, now, director of a show that revels in class divides. Set designer Drew Facey’s first time out produced a budget-conscious, fully functional result that fit the Festival Stage like a glove and—don’t miss the family portraits and talking bust in the library—demonstrates a sense of humour and inventiveness that ought to be taken further advantage of whenever schedules permit.
Parker Esse has most certainly hit his stride as choreographer, cobbling together several showstoppers (notably “The Lambeth Walk”) which artfully employ the strengths of the veterans while infusing extra life into the numbers by exploiting the talents of the fresh faces whether as leads or in the ensemble. As the run continues (and will likely be extended) the promise of collective “tap” unanimity should raise the bar considerably. Similarly, Paul Sportelli’s adaptation of the score and direction of all voices and instrumentalists has already reached a new level of consistency and excellence. Let’s keep that direction going!
Sue LePage’s costumes were another constant delight whether decking out her charges in cockney gear, crocket and tennis attire or having the family tree burst out of their frames into uniform redness. None of which was lost on the eye thanks to Kevin Lamotte’s well-angled array of lights.
The début of Michael Therriault as leading man, Bill Sibson was an unqualified success. His songs—whether with the troupe (“Love Makes the World Go Round”), in duet (“Hold my Hand”) or on his own (“Leaning at the Lampost”—so at one in content and staging with “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady—one of several references in the redo)—rang true both musically and emotionally. He held his own and then some in the wide-ranging dance requirements, ranging from tap to waltz and displayed a masterful sense of comedy as the cockney-speaking everyman was suddenly thrust into an Earldom. Therriault even managed to make the running gag of the pilfered gold watch seem fresh with every steal.
Also moving up to the next level of excellence was Kristi Frank’s ever-engaging portrayal of Bill’s long-time love interest, Sally. Her transformation from devoted lover to “For his sake, I must leave him” to radiant society woman was believable every step and song (notably “Once You Lose Your Heart”) of the way.
The Shaw “regulars” filling out most of the supporting roles were at the top of their considerable form. Sharry Lett’s Duchess, most certainly oozed with “She Who Must Be Obeyed”; Ric Reid’s comic timing and body language (proposing on one knee was never funnier) drew many howls of glee from the crowd; playing Lady Jacqueline Carstone—the gold digger of the privileged set—appeared to be child’s play (at times literally) thanks to Élodie Gillett’s considerable skill as a flaunter; Jay Turvey seemed born to play/sing the role of “The Family Solicitor”, Parchester and Neil Barclay’s, stoic yet understanding rendering of senior servant Charles Hethersett was a model for all others cast in similar roles to emulate.
Running out of space, let’s just conclude by saying that a viewing of Me and My Girl is heartily recommended—with all of the real-world drama and calamities unfolding daily, three hours of purposeful silliness and joy can only improve our outlook on life’s challenges, which will still be there after the current falls. JWR