Through October 15
ME AND MY GIRL Festival Theatre/Shaw Festival
By Augustine Warner
This time, the Shaw got it right.
After seasons with musicals “Alice in Wonderland” and “Sweet Charity,” this season the festival is offering a wonderful “Me and My Girl.”
It’s a 1937 musical which has been tinkered with a number of times over the years, including work from Stephen Fry.
“My Girl” is a musical shot at Britain’s upper crust, when an earl of vast wealth and long history dies.
The usual situation is that the long-waiting heir takes the title, the wealth and the country spread.
When the earl of Hareford dies, it’s not clear there is a direct heir, although there is a family story of an heir by a short-term wife.
Gerald (Kyle Blair) is the putative heir, ready to take the title and money and marry the predatory cousin Jackie (Ėlodie Gillett).
Jay Turvey’s wonderful Parchester, the family solicitor, goes out and determines a Lambeth hustler, Bill Snibson (Michael Therriault), is the heir and brings the impoverished, very lower-class Cockney to the splendor of Hampshire’s Hareford Hall, with a regiment of servants, too many rooms to count and a regiment of hangers-on relatives led by the duchess of Dene (Sharry Flett).
Bill is told he can gain complete access to the title and its vast wealth, if the duchess decides he’s “fit and proper.”
Bill doesn’t get any of this, preferring to take some of the money and marry Sally (Kristi Frank), his costermonger girlfriend and not marry Jackie, who has abandoned the impoverished Gerald and throws herself at Bill.
One of the early jokes in the show is when Gerald is told he could deal with his debts by getting a job, a proposal he can’t quite understand since his people don’t do that.
Bill has some support with Sir John Tremayne (Ric Reid) who tries to back him up in his own drunken way, against the duchess.
This is all filled with sly jokes and allusions to the times, to other writers and other plays, including George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.”
But, this isn’t Shaw, it’s a musical with Noel Gay music and book and lyrics from L. Arthur Ross and Douglas Furber with revisions from Fry and contributions from Mike Ockrent (I have no idea why this differentiation).
The song which made the original show a hit in London’s West End and changed popular music is “The Lambeth Walk,” turned into a terrific production number with Therriault, Frank and the ensemble, with brilliant choreography from Parker Esse.
This is throwback 1937 choreography, no references to Bob Fosse’s groundbreaking pattern changes.
While director Ashlie Corcoran is working with a marvelous cast, on a wonderful set from Drew Facey, it’s Therriault that holds it all together with his singing and dancing, acting and acrobatics.
This is his first season at the Shaw but he has long experience, including years at the Shaw’s competition up the road in Stratford.
Therriault’s performance alone should bring crowds to the Festival Theatre and certainly did the day I saw the show.
Get to Niagara-on-the-Lake to see this show.
You can also see wonderful music, classics like “The Lambeth Walk,” Therriault with “Leaning on a Lamp Post,” Frank with “Once You Lose Your Heart,” Turvey and others with “The Family Solicitor” and Gillett and Therriault with “You Would if You Could.”
What makes this show work when regular theaters can’t is the Shaw company which fills the roles, Reid, Flett, Neil Barclay’s butler Charles Hethersett, Blair and Jeremiah Sparks Sir Jasper Tring since these lesser performances which can often make a production work or fail.
“Me and My Girl” is the kind of show people will talk about for years, not only the basic material but the ensemble and, especially, Therriault’s absolutely wonderful Bill Snibson.
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