Music by Noel Gay
Book and Lyrics by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber, Steven Frye Directed by Robert Eagle and Cynthia Thole
At the Robinson Theatre
Waltham High School Through August 10th

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

The Reagle Players have another triumph with their current revival of "Me and My Girl" . The show in its present form began on the London stage in 1985, a rewrite of a 1930's vehicle for the popular comedian Lupino Lane. Lane continued to perform as the insouciant cockney hero Bill Snibson as late as 1949. Robert Lindsay was a huge hit in "Me and My Girl"'s 1985 revival, and Emma Thompson played in it in London for eighteen months. The musical later delighted Broadway audiences with Jim Dale in the starring role. Sheri Cowart was Dale's "Girl", Sally Smith, and she repeats her role in Waltham with the Tony-winning Bruce Adler . Reagle's production is every bit as lavish and warm-hearted as the 1985 London original, which when I saw it induced hundreds of respectable looking middle-aged couples to get up and dance "The Lambeth Walk" in the aisles of the theatre.

The story of "Me and My Girl" is pure wish-fulfillment fantasy. The late Earl of Hereford made an "unfortunate" marriage in his youth, and there were rumors of a baby. At Hereford's death the lawyers go looking for the heir, and discover him in Bill Snibson, a small-time grifter in the Lambeth slums. All the fortune and the responsibilities of the ancient house are to devolve upon Bill -- provided that he proves to the executors, Sir John Tremaine ( Harold Walker ) and the Duchess of Dene ( Nancy-Ellen Ranier ), that he is worthy of them. This will include making a suitable marriage to Lady Jaqueline Carstone ( Paula Ebben ), a beautifully mercenary member of the upper classes. But Bill loves Sally, a Lambeth girl. What will Bill choose? His girl, or his gold?

One of the delights of "Me and My Girl" is hearing the old songs and the old jokes

Lady Jaqueline, displaying her charms: "I'm sure we have so much in common. Do you like Kipling?"
Cockney Bill: "I don't know. I've never Kippled."

Then there are the classic clowning routines reaching back from vaudeville to comedia: slight of hand with a pocket watch, tricks with a bowler, a cane, with bottles, glasses and teacups. There's an extended series of sight gags Bill Snibson does with the Earl of Hereford's ermine-trimmed crimson robe that is such an elegant bit of physical comedy that it ought to be part of every actor-training program in the country. This robe business leads into an extended borrowing from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Ruddigore". Portraits of Hereford ancestors come to life in their frames, and call on Bill to do his duty to his family in the "Song --(and dance) of Hereford". The denouncement is cheerfully stolen from Shaw's "Pygmalion".

The two Broadway veterans, Adler and Cowart, are first rate in the singing and dancing leads. When Sally decides to give up her beloved Bill so that he can take his rightful place in posh society, Cowart brings a tear to the eye with "Once You Lose Your Heart". But "Me and My Girl" is the show in which the Reagle locals really get to shine, taking on all the featured roles. For most of them this is the second time around playing these stock characters: the Reagle first produced "Me and My Girl" in 1991. Nancy-Ellen Rainier as the formidable Duchess gives a stellar performance, somehow managing to indicate that there is a warm heart beneath her battle-ax exterior.

Not every Reaglean has a secure British accent, but the acting and the singing and especially the dancing in Cynthia Thole 's version of the Gillian Gregory choreography -- all are of professional quality throughout. The sheer logistics of the show are mind-boggling. Director Robert Eagle has sixty five people dancing on the Waltham High School stage at the finale, and every one of them must have had at least six changes of costume. Jeffrey Leonard 's orchestra is obviously having great fun playing Noel Gay 's rickety-tickety thirties score. It takes a long time for the theatre to clear after the last bow is taken and the curtain is closed, because the delighted audience is willing to stay and listen for as long as the orchestra is willing to play.