Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Boy Friend, The Production Company, Aug 12, 2009 ***1/2

Book, lyrics and music by Sandy Wilson
Produced by The Production Company
State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre,  Aug 12 to 16, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2
 Published in Herald Sun

THE BOY FRIEND, by Sandy Wilson, is a playful musical set in the 1920s but written in the 1950s, when it was enormously popular in England and Australia. It was called “a disarming mish mash” but continued to enchant audiences. It is much performed these days by amateur companies but rarely receives a professional production.

At a finishing school for young ladies on the French Riviera, Polly Browne (Esther Hannaford), an English heiress, falls for Tony (Alex Rathgeber), who Polly believes to be a messenger boy but is really the runaway son of an English lord. It is the meeting of minds and money. The peculiar structure of the script explains why it was called a mish mash. It would probably work better concentrating on the “on-stage” story of the finishing school and omitting the thin, backstage story.

Gary Young’s production is energetic and fun. It is astonishing how far The Production Company shows can develop in only two weeks of company rehearsal. The inimitable Rhonda Burchmore, who knows how to command the stage, plays the seductive, French finishing school headmistress, Madame Dubonnet. Burchmore’s fruity vocal tones fill the theatre and she brings elegance and pizzazz to the role.

Grant Smith’s rich baritone blends well with Burchmore and he brings both dignity and comedy to the role of millionaire, Percival, who is Madame’s long lost love and Polly’s father. Robert Grubb is hilariously sleazy as Lord Brockhurst and Robyn Arthur embodies his long-suffering wife.

Hannaford has a pretty voice and is suitably na├»ve and confused as Polly. Rathgeber has a simple charm as Tony and Christie Whelan is perky as Polly’s frisky pal, Maisie. Kellie Rode is deliciously pert and petite as Hortense, the cheeky French maid. She has that magical quality that lights up a stage, can sing and dance and is totally immersed in her comic role. Other principals provide a spirited group of Polly’s friends.

The orchestra executes Wilson’s music beautifully under the direction of David Piper.  The reeds and strings are featured in much of the arrangements and the music echoes the style of the 1920s. There are plenty of singable tunes in The Boy Friend including the chirpy title song and the cheerful duet, I Could Be Happy With You. Andrew Hallsworth’s choreography channels the flappers of the 20s as do Kim Bishop’s costumes while Richard Jeziorny’s design sets the period stylishly and simply.

By Kate Herbert

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