The current CLO production of Me and My Girl could be retitled James Brennan and Everybody Else. It's not that the supporting cast does not perform well, because they do; but Brennan is an overwhelming comedic force with a seemingly endless stream of perfectly accomplished sight gags, physical bits, and dancing feats. Brennan has a long history with this show, having performed the lead role on Broadway, through the first national tour, and in other productions (including a 1992 CLO production with Judy Blazer and Mary Stout). His experience is evident, and he delivers a polished and energetic performance that is utterly delightful.
Set in 1930s Hampshire, England, the plot of Me and My Girl is featherweight. Everyone at Hareford Hall eagerly awaits the arrival of the next Earl of Hareford. The title and estate are to be passed to Bill Snibson, the product of a secret marriage between the late Earl and a woman "below his station." When Snibson arrives, he is found to be loud, vulgar, and so far from a proper gentlemen, the snooty Hareford clan nearly faint en masse. As a requirement of the Earl's will, the heir must be deemed fit and proper by the Duchess of Dene and Sir John Tremayne. Though the Duchess is determined to make a proper gentleman of Snibson, Sir John is not so game, and even the Duchess is not willing to accept Snibson's brassy girlfriend, Sally Smith. As the Duchess works on a class makeover for Snibson, Sir John tries to use Sally to draw Snibson away.
James Brennan's Bill Snibson successfully goes from boorish to charming, making friends of all adversaries along the way. From his first entrance, Brennan shows Bill to be an ill-mannered jester, a one-person vaudeville act with not an ounce of propriety about him. He's game to be schooled in "gentlemanship," but truly loves Sally and is not willing to give her up. As Sally, Sutton Foster (Tony winner for Thoroughly Modern Millie) does a fine job in a small role. Her key songs, "Take it on the Chin" and "Once You Lose Your Heart," and are delivered solidly and sweetly. She nails the few opportunities for broad comedy and dances very well with Brennan in the title song.
Though each scene that includes Brennan is dominated by his hilarious comic antics, the supporting players (cast extremely well by Barry Moss Casting) give solid performances. With her nose firmly in the air, Eleanor Glockner (original cast of Beauty and the Beast) provides a Duchess with a heart. Walter Charles (CLO's La Cage aux Folles with James Brennan, and Broadway's Big River, The Boys from Syracuse and Kiss Me, Kate) is excellent as the sneaky Sir John, and he warms up charmingly as the show progresses. Both have excellent song performances with Brennan ("Song of Hareford" for Glockner and a terrific "Love Makes the World Go Round" for Charles) and show gifted comedy skills of their own as the characters loosen up.
As Lady Jacqueline (she wants to marry the Earl, who is her cousin) and Gerald (he wants to marry her), Ann Kittredge and John Hickok also show impressive singing and comedy talents. Hickok in particular really creates an interesting character - a haughty and high-strung chap who occasionally shows the kind of oddball behavior that makes you wonder if too many cousins have married cousins in this family. Other supporting performers (including Tim Jerome as the song-and-dance solicitor Herbert Parchester and Ted Brunetti, Sr. as hard-of-hearing elder Sir Jasper Tring) and the CLO ensemble again do well in their various roles.
Nearly as big and impressive as Brennan's performance is the set by Martin Johns. A combination of flats and non-flat pieces, the eight different settings are well rendered in detail and provide opportunities for interesting staging (people sitting on window sills, etc.). Particularly impressive are the Hareford Hall, kitchen and terrace sets. Costuming supplied by Goodspeed is excellent.
Not to be forgotten, the notable "Lambeth Walk" song is well choreographed (Alan Coats) and executed, though perhaps a tad incessant. Directing by Charles Repole is efficient, though it's not clear at times whether some of Brennan's comic bits are free-form or planned. Overall, the entire production is tremendously entertaining.
Me and My Girl continues at the Benedum Center through August 8. For schedule and ticket information, call 412.456.6666 or visit www.pittsburghclo.org.