Review: ‘The Boy Friend’ — a lovely, corny musical

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Sam Post
For the Salisbury Post
It takes a lot of talent to sing like an angel, dance with grace, speak in a flawless French or British accent, and pull every drop of humor out of a scene with the straight face and corny comic timing of a Beverly Hillbilly ó all at the same time.
Does Catawba College have students who can do this?
Oui. Beaucoup.
And they will be doing so in “The Boy Friend” through Sunday in Hedrick Little Theatre.
For this show, you don’t have to leave your kids at home. In fact, you can leave your brain at home. It’s just a simple romp with a clear mission ó music, humor, fun. It’s OK to be corny if that’s your intention. And that’s certainly the intention here.
The girls are English. The guys are French. They sing. They dance. They fall in love.
I’ve never seen “The Boy Friend” before, but a quick check on Google reveals it’s a long-running 1954 West End classic that also marked Julie Andrews’ American debut.
And it’s the perfect show for November 2009.
In Fort Hood, Texas, on Tuesday, President Obama said, correctly, that “these are trying times for our country.”
We need art that can reflect our human condition, go deep, and provide insight ó but when times are tough, we benefit from live performances that provide remedy for our low public mood.
“The Boy Friend” is perfect for this, and the Catawba talent ó smooth and bright and fun ó makes it look easy.
It’s probably not easy.
The playbill lists a crew the size of an army. And music director Sarah Fuller Hall manages a perfectly finessed and fair-sized orchestra backstage.
The actors have obviously done double duty in rehearsal; they are more than ready for an audience. The dress rehearsal appeared to run without a hitch (except for one slight, mysterious mishap, when an unknown object seemed to fall with a crash, unplanned, from the rafters).
We spent our two hours, including two intermissions, among the rich, in the roaring ’20s on the French Riviera.
The simple plot is propelled almost entirely with song and dance. Duets between lovers and would-be lovers ó each quite beautiful without a trace of sentiment ó are framed by numbers from the the two ensembles: our wealthy English boarding school students, the pretty girls; and their counterparts, the handsome young Frenchmen on the prowl.
Rob White plays Pierre, a Frenchman with a stereotypical mustache. Vanessa Malanga plays Hortense, the French maid. All the ensemble players are excellent, but these two have a particular knack for French accent parody; they cracked me up every time they opened their mouths.
The real joy, however, comes from the voice on display here: “Fancy Forgetting,” performed by Danielle Smith and Matt Patrick; “I Could be Happy with You,” sung by Caitlin Becka and Mike Innis, two radiant youngsters ó and several other powerful singers, including Vanessa Malanga and Mara Stewart.
I’ve spend most of my life living within a stone’s throw of Catawba College. I remember, as a kid, watching the bulldozers clear the land for these marvelous theater spaces. I can honestly say that Catawba theater has been one of the joys of my life.
We’re lucky, here in Salisbury ó such a small town ó to have three colleges, and to have this place, Catawba, that regularly invites the general public to witness the shows made by its prized department.
Not all the drama students become Broadway or movie stars ó but they all seem to learn one thing for sure: how to do a thing very well.
Missy Barnes, who directs this production, does honor to that tradition.
Sam Post’s new book, “An Actor’s Dozen: 13 Quick and Easy Ten-Minute Plays,” is available on his blog, www.sampost.com.

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