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'My Girl' hijinks get high Marx
THEATER, BY BOB ABELMAN
'My Girl' hijinks get high Marx
Those familiar with the Marx Brothers movies from the 1930s and 1940s will take particular pleasure in the version of "Me and My Girl" playing on the Mercury Summer Stock stage in Parma.
"Me and My Girl" was first produced in 1937, with music by Noel Gay and book and lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber. It was revised and revived in London and Broadway in the mid-1980s.
The play is set in England, where a family of snooty aristocrats discovers that the legitimate heir to the title of Earl of Hareford is a smooth-talking cockney hustler. Enter Bill Snibson. Before the estate can be passed to young Bill, he must be deemed fit and proper by the Duchess and Sir John. The Duchess is determined to make a proper gentleman of Snibson. Sir John is more willing to accept Snibson and his brassy girlfriend, Sally, as they are.
In the end, Bill and Sally learn that becoming gentrified has its advantages, and the upper crust discover the simple joys of regular people. This frothy confection is ideal for a Marx Brothers make-over.
The Marx Brothers introduced a highly irreverent, absurdist brand of comedy to the vaudeville stage and silver screen. They mocked serious institutions and serious people, particularly the very pompous, very rich and very respectable. In their film "Horse Feathers," higher education was ridiculed. In "Duck Soup," government officials were lampooned. In "A Night at the Opera," patrons of the arts were the target of the Marx Brothers' trademark quick wit, acerbic wordplay and absolutely outrageous and socially inappropriate antics.
Just like a Marx Brothers movie, "Me and My Girl" is an odd compilation of fast-paced dialogue laced with rapier one-liners (Lady Jacquie: "I am not one to be simply tossed aside." Bill: "No, you are to be thrown with great force."), saccharine-sweet ballads and huge madcap musical numbers that arrive with little provocation and even less justification.
To bring this old chestnut of a musical to life and counterweight some of its more monotonous moments, director-choreographer Pierre-Jacques Brault appears to have wholeheartedly embraced Marxism.
Every performer buys into a prescribed zaniness, as if the atmosphere at Hareford Hall was saturated with nitrous oxide. The very clever staging and choreography and the simple but effective set by Zach DeNardi are all designed to showcase the kind of controlled lunacy found in Marx Brothers films.
In his delightful portrayal of the cockney charmer Bill, Brian Marshall channels all four Marx brothers. He lofts each one-liner with Groucho's sardonic understatement. He fails to comprehend social conventions or proper English language and makes up his own like the faux-immigrant Chico. He shamelessly mugs and bears the boyishness of chronic mischief-maker Harpo. He has the suave good looks of a romantic lead, a la Zeppo.
Not all of Mr. Marshall's pratfalls and folderol work, but there is never a dull moment. His characterization nicely complements the more subtle comedy delivered by the exceptionally talented Jennifer Myor. As Bill's cockney girlfriend, Ms. Myor demonstrates a real penchant for physical humor, but she is at her best center stage and singing. Her "Once You Lose Your Heart" is breathtaking.
Members of the sizable ensemble all have interesting business to perform throughout this production and do so with energy and finesse. The oddball "The Sun Has Got His Hat On" -- an ensemble musical number that displays Mr. Brault's pendant for fun choreography and schadenfreude -- is executed without a shred of self-consciousness, which is remarkable.
Stand-out performances include Bailey Carter Moulse, as Lady Jacquie, who attempts to seduce Bill throughout the show, and Brett Parr, as her preppy boy-toy, Gerald. Their comic timing as pampered elite and their song-and-dance expertise are outstanding.
As Parchester, the family solicitor, Dan DiCello is a hilarious running gag. Hester Lewellen misses an opportunity to be Margaret Dumont, who always played the rich dowager cluelessly absorbing all of the Marx Brothers' mockery. Still, Ms. Lewellen is charming as the Duchess.
As with other Mercury productions, the costuming by Margaret Ruble is delightful, and the pit, under Eddie Carney's direction, is excellent, even though instruments are woefully underrepresented.
"Me and My Girl" is wonderfully quirky summer entertainment that gets very high Marx. On stage until Aug. 22, it closes out Mercury Summer Stock's season.
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