Cast, musicians win hearts in `The Boy Friend'

Song-and-dance actors, with orchestra's support, create air of romance

November 18, 1999|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Moonlight Troupers have a winning combination in the rarely done musical "The Boy Friend," with a talented cast of actors and singers supported by 15 lively musicians in the orchestra pit.

The Troupers also have a number of talented dancers to execute the imaginative choreography, and for good measure they have sets that simulate a posh finishing school and a view of Nice so realistic we can almost breathe the Mediterranean air.

Sandy Wilson's musical asks the audience to make a double leap back in time, first to Wilson's 1954 look back at the mindless musicals of the 1920s, then on to view the '50s from our '90s perspective. "The Boy Friend" takes us back to when wealthy English girls went to exclusive finishing schools on the French Riviera, where they acquired Parisian social graces and learned French from headmistresses like Madame Dubonnet.

Wilson's schoolgirls are majoring in romance with the boys of Nice. Polly Browne is so rich that she is forbidden to date any boy for fear fortune hunters will lay claim to the family's wealth. Wealthy messenger boy Tony Brockhurst appears on the scene and romance blooms.

When Polly's protective father Percival Browne arrives at the school to visit Polly, he rekindles an old flame with headmistress Madame Dubonnet.

This version features in the lead role Broadneck High School junior Colleen Denny as Polly Browne. Denny not only looks the part, she also sings well, and has the natural grace to get by nicely in the dance numbers.

The best dancer is Anne Arundel Community College student Jake Thornhill, who plays Bobby Van Husen with style and enthusiasm. His dancing in "Won't You Charleston With Me?" is worth the price of admission. His partner and fellow AACC student Shelly Konski matches him and helps deliver a Charleston that is truly show-stopping. Konski's comic portrayal of flirtatious scatterbrain Maisie adds to the fun of the show.

As Polly's "boyfriend" Tony, AACC sophomore Robert Reichert does well by "I Could Be Happy With You," and "Room in Bloomsbury." The best singer in the show, he makes the songs sound better than they are, and he has the right chemistry for Denny's Polly.

Other outstanding members of the cast include MT veteran Christy Stouffer as Madame Dubonnet, a skilled actor and accomplished flirt. Marking her seventh MT appearance, Stouffer for the first time appears on stage opposite her husband, Walt League, who plays Polly's father.

A veteran of numerous local productions, League was last seen on the MT stage in "The Diviners." Together, Stouffer and League add grown-up charm in "Fancy Forgetting" and "You Don't Want to Play With Me Blues." Other memorable performances are given by John Howell and Pat Roberts as Lord and Lady Brockhurst.

How can anyone not like a show where the leading lady apologizes for being rich with the line: "I'm not a secretary after all -- can you forgive me?" To which her well-heeled boyfriend confesses he's not actually a bellboy either!

The cast makes the numbers sparkle despite the relatively uninspired score, with songs sometimes sounding much the same. I found "I Could Be Happy With You" similar to "Won't You Charleston with Me?" -- the best song in the show, but hardly worth repeating like a fugue with variations.

The music is boosted by fine choreography, as seen in "Sur La Piage" with imaginative use of giant beach balls, and in the masquerade number -- "The Riviera" with its variety of national dances,including an inspired tango.

Conductor Raymond Ascione and the 14 other members of the orchestra are to be congratulated. Even with a few missed notes on opening weekend, nothing equals the excitement of an orchestra in the pit.

Kudos to director Barbara Marder and to choreographer Verena Keller-Demack. Congratulations are also due Robert Kauffman and Joy Ajello for the marvelous set and lighting.

This is a show that everyone should Charleston on down to see at AACC's Pascal Center. The theater was almost full last weekend, so it would be wise to call 410-541-2457 to reserve tickets.

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