This was a momentous occasion for us, following the Chocolate Factory’s perfect take on Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along on Saturday night, we spent a joyous Sunday afternoon in the tiny Jermyn Street theatre, resulting in our first ever 10 star weekend.
As soon as I had read the words “1930’s gay tap dancing musical” I was hooked and booked a couple of early bird tickets immediately, but nothing prepared me for what a totally delicious ball of delight this UK premiere of the 1975 off-Broadway hit this would be.
Bill Solly (music, lyrics & book) and Donald Ward (book) take us to a parallel 1930’s where being gay is the most natural thing in the world and no-one blinks an eye at same-sex nuptials (unimaginable I know). American hack and party boy Casey O’Brien is trying to uncover the dirt on the upcoming marriage of convenience between wealthy American socialite Clarence Cutler and mysterious, broke, but titled, English aristocrat Guy Rose.
When Rose jilts Cutler at the altar, the press, O’Brien included, are desperate to get the scoop but no-one knows what Rose looks like. There follows an almost Shakespearan two hours of mistaken identity and found and lost love, taking us from London to Paris and a raucous second act recreation of Guy’s aunt’s nightclub act complete with naked male fan dancer. Along the way are fabulous pastiches of songs of the era and the most incredible dance routines, courtesy of fringe choreographer du jour, the remarkable Lee Proud. Proud has the ability to create virtually Busby Berkeley style numbers in the tiniest of spaces. If you think he did wonders with Victor/Victoria at the Southwark Playhouse recently (and he did), just wait until you see what he does with this talented company in a space the size of your average bathroom.
Stephen Ashfield, the original Bob Gaudio in the West End’s Jersey Boys and soon to be a fully fledged Mormon, holds the show as Casey O’Brien and owns the tiny stage in true leading man fashion. His O'Brien manages to fall head over heels in love with Craig Fletcher’s cute-as-a-button Guy Rose when he’s scrubbed up and in tails, but doesn’t give him a second glance when he’s in mufti wearing his specs (yes you do have to suspend your disbelief quite heavily in this show, but that’s all part of the fun). However, watch out for Ben Kavanagh’s hysterical scene stealing turn as would-be Machiavelli Clarence Cutler, what that boy does with a quip and a gap-toothed sneer should be bottled and sold over the counter at Boots as an anti-depressant. In fact the entire show should be prescribed on the NHS. Anna Nicholas, as both Guy’s mother and black sheep aunt Josephine, raises the roof in her tiny sequinned shorts with Josephine's “It’s A Dolly”, the bastard love child of Cabaret’s Two Ladies and Rocky Horror’s Time Warp.
From the opening chorus of “Boy Meets Boy, Boy Loses Boy, Boy Gets Boy In The End” (i.e. the entire plot) to the glittering ticker tape finale, I had a grin from ear to ear and much like the previous day’s Merrily, I shed a few tears at the end, but this time from pure joy (I know silly old sod).
As a final salvo from Jermyn Street’s Artistic Director Gene David Kirk, who is leaving for pastures new at the end of 2012, this could not be a better parting gift and if there was an Olivier for the cutest company (boys and girls), this show would win hands down.
Booking until 20 December 2012, saucy yet tender, the most fun you can have with your clothes on - Boy Meets Boy