Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Delightful Production Of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend
Artistic director Lois Grandi has been longing to direct and choreograph The Boy Friend ever since she first appeared in the original Off Broadway production of the frothy Sandy Wilson musical. Grandi was seventeen, a wide-eyed hopeful in the early '50s who wanted to conquer New York, and she was cast as a replacement in the production. She earned her Actor's Equity card there, and has gone on to perform in over fifty plays and musicals in the last 12 years alone.
The Boy Friend marks the first production in Playhouse West's new home at the Knights 3 Theatre of the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. The stage is twice as big as their Locust Street theater but still no bigger than a large rumpus room. Lois has done wonders on the small bandbox stage with this charming musical parody of the '20s
I saw Julie Andrews, who had just turned 19, make her Broadway debut at the Royale in The Boy Friend in the fall of 1954 where it ran for 485 performances. Critic Richard Watts, Jr. said the musical was "hilarious and enormously attractive." Years after, a young Joel Grey performed Tony here in the touring company production. The actual production had premiered in the West End before coming to Broadway and ran a record breaking five years in London.
The Boy Friend takes place in 1920 on the French Riviera in Madame Dubonnet's finishing school for proper young ladies. The young girls have "jeunes hommes" who are hungry for romance and matrimony. The whimsical musical spoof is short on plot and long on song. As expected, there are mistaken identities as boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy and girl get back together. The Boy Friend features 18 marvelous '20s style melodies, and the young ladies sing at the end "one has got to have, plot to have, 'cause it's dreary not to have, that certain thing called The Boy Friend." Ms. Grandi has assembled a superb cast of young talented dancers and singers plus actors from Los Angeles, New York and Ashland, Oregon to entertain the audience.
Sabrina Harris, who began her career on stage as Little Cosette/Little Eponine in Les Miserables in San Francisco, plays the enjoyable Maisie who finds "Safety in Numbers" when going out with the boys. She gives a fun performance both as a singer and a dancer. As one of the adult couples, Veteran Broadway and television actor Bill Lewis plays Percival Browne, and he is engaging with the equally talented Deb Note-Farwell, recently from Ashland, Oregon, playing Madame Dubonnet. The other adult couple is comprised of Roland Scrivner (who was brilliant in the Playhouse West's production of Only Kidding) and veteran actress Kenna Hunt, who has played every regional theater in the Bay area. These two luminous comedy actors play Lord and Lady Brockhurst. Scrivner knows how to put over old fashioned vaudeville turns on stage and is outstanding in the number "It's Never Too Late to Fall In Love," a duet with Tielle Baker playing Dulcie. Baker is the dance captain, and her singing and dancing are choice in this presentation. Sara Betts, with her comic French accent, is great as Hortense the maid.
The young boys, all very talented singers and dancers, are played by J.D. Daw, Stephen Diaz, John Waechter and Andrew Savine. The young ladies are equally talented, and they are played by Lisa Christine and Heidi Pasch, in addition to those mentioned above. J.D. Daw and Lisa Christine are outstanding in the showstopping tango number in the third act. Other standouts are Sabrina Harris and Andrew Savine in the number "Won't You Charleston With Me?"; and Joy Sherratt and Derek Lux in the lovely duet, "Room In Bloomsbury."
The three piece orchestra, led by pianist David Dobrusky (one of the best pianist/music directors in the Bay Area), includes beautiful banjo playing by John Imholz, and Timothy Vaughan playing great drums.
The Boy Friend is a welcome, warm production - a lovely night of toe-tapping entertainment. The Playhouse West's production runs through Sunday, June 28th at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Civic Drive at Locust Street, Walnut Creek, Ca. There is an extra evening performance set for Wednesday, June 25th. For tickets, call 925-943-SHOW or visit www.dlrca.org.
The 2003-2004 seasons will open with the Pulitzer Prize play Proof by David Auburn on September 5th.