Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of An Inspector Calls
Author and director Catherine Flye does not appear in this year's productionshe's busy playing Billy Elliot's grandmother a few miles away at Signature Theatre in Arlingtonbut the spirited cast of entertainers is now led by two-time Helen Hayes Award recipient Sherri L. Edelen. Edelen plays Miss Florrie Forde, an actual music-hall star of the time who made the real Old Bull and Bush pub famous in 1904 by singing a song about it.
In addition to the expected frivolity and sentiment, the performers (five singing, dancing actors and indefatigable music director-pianist Joseph Walsh) and Flye have added another layer to this year's show, commemorating the centennial of the end of World War I. Along with an audience sing-off between "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag" and "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" and Jimmy Mavrikes' performance of "Christmas in the Trenches," recalling the spontaneous Christmas Day truce of 1914, Brian O'Connor gives a heartfelt reading of "In Flanders Fields," with its remembrance of the men who died in the war, and cast members wear artificial poppies (more a British tradition than a U.S. one) as a symbol of the lost soldiers.
But back to the lighter moments. Edelen flirts with audience members during songs like "Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy!" and "Hello, Hello, Who's Your Lady Friend," then shifts to more serious songs like the "Merry Widow Waltz" and "Keep the Home Fires Burning." O'Connor, as the Chairman, keeps up the patter throughout, making the most of every double entendre and painful pun; Mavrikes, as man-about-town Percival Pennyfeather, and Katherine Riddle, as barmaid Miss Daisy May, get some romantic moments; and the inimitable comic and character man Albert Coia (described by the Chairman as a "little lump of fun") gets numerous opportunities to mug and gesture his way through some rather bawdy songs.