Photos - Jeff Busby
The Production Company’s staging of The Boy Friend is a triumph. This popular British musical, with book, music and lyrics all from the skilful hand of Sandy Wilson, has a breezy, nonchalant air and a tuneful inventive score that succeeded at its premiere, and it has lost none of its appeal.
The show is set in 1926, in Nice, at the Villa Caprice [might as well start those rhymes early…], or Madame Dubonnet's School for Young Ladies, but there’s as much education in this place as at St. Trinian’s, it seems more like a holiday camp. The plot tells of the various complications, disguises, secret identities, and troubled but ultimately triumphant love affairs of a group of lively young Englishwomen, self-described "Perfect Young Ladies", whose energies revolve around the search for "The Boy Friend". All’s well that ends well, in this genre, and it is clear early on, from the rapid story telling, the frequent and witty songs, sharp and neat dancing, colourful costumes and broad performance style, that high spirits, zest and good fun are the deal.
Building on Wilson’s infectious score and serviceable text are solid contributions from the entire creative team, Gary Young (direction), Orchestra Victoria under David Piper (music), choreography (Andrew Hallsworth), set design (Richard Jeziorny), and costume design (Kim Bishop). The casting cannot be faulted. Esther Hannaford (Polly) and Alex Rathgeber (Tony) play the ingénues with charm, and attractive voices and dance skills into the bargain. Rhonda Burchmore’s Madame Kiki Dubonnet, hiding a risqué past in her new role of headmistress, is warm and amusing at every point, a highlight being the duet with Polly, Poor Little Pierrot.
Robert Grubb, Robyn Arthur and Grant Smith bring precision and authority to their roles as frustrated husband, shrewish wife and ageing lover respectively, nicely matched by exuberant, knowing performances from younger characters. Here special mention must be made of Christie Whelan’s Maisie Merriweather (good name), a girl who convincingly explains in Safety in Numbers her reluctance to settle down, just yet, anyway. The chance for comic interplay is eagerly seized by the chorus in the many dance songs, among them Won’t You Charleston With Me?, The Boyfriend itself, Sur la Plage, Nicer in Nice and (my favourite) The Riviera. The constant flow of skill, gaiety and good humour is delightful, and it is unusual and refreshing to see a large cast (22, I think) in action.
Breezy, melodious light entertainment, produced and performed by people who know exactly what they are doing, doesn’t come along every day. I wouldn’t wait if I were you, catch it on its remaining three nights.
The Production Company presents
The Boy Friend
by Sandy Wilson
Director Gary Young
Venue: State Theatre, the Arts Centre, Melbourne
Dates/Times: 12 – 15 August at 7.30 pm, Saturday 15 August at 2pm and Sunday 16 August at 3 pm.
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166 or www.ticketmaster.com.au