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STAGE REVIEW : 'Me and My Girl' Revives Laughter at the Pantages

January 15, 1988|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

To like the Noel Gay/L. Arthur Rose/Douglas Furber 1937 musical "Me and My Girl," one has to like the verrrry English, silly-smart extra-special wit of Punch magazine.

Ridiculous exchanges such as "Do you like Kipling? -- I don't know; I haven't kipled" or "It's bean soup -- But what is it now ?" or "Help the Old Ladies Home -- Blimey, I didn't know they were still out" are addictive to some, abhorrent to others.

I confess to falling in the addictive category, and judging from the reaction at the curtain call, so did 80% of Wednesday's audience at the Pantages, where "Me and My Girl" marched in as the first show in the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera 1988 season doing its wildly contagious Lambeth Walk.

Theirs was a spontaneous response to Tim Curry's witty appropriation of the role Robert Lindsay made famous first in London, then two years ago at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (and subsequently on Broadway).

There have been complaints among LACLO subscribers that this revival of a revival comes too soon. True enough, but Curry is his own man, and while the rest of the first-class production at the Pantages is more or less the one that originally left London (it is still directed by Mike Ockrent, has the same scrumptious costumes by Ann Curtis and sumptuous sets by Martin Johns, with creamy lighting by Roger Morgan and Chris Ellis), but Curry at the core gives it very much his own flavor.

Is it nonsense? Of course. Proper English nonsense at that, which takes a little tuning into. But if you like Jeeves, you'll love "Me and My Girl," which has a mansionful of them. The story revolves around a happy-go-lucky Bill Snibson (Curry), the illegitimate Cockney son but legitimate heir of a well-placed nobleman. Poor Billy is suddenly saddled with a title and an inheritance. "Me and My Girl" makes vivid confetti of his reluctant adaptation to the upper classes and their equally arduous adaptation to him.

None of it is to be taken at all seriously and, except for the Lambeth Walk (the climax of act one), you're not likely to walk out humming the vintage Noel Gay songs ("Me and My Girl," "You Would If You Could," "Hold My Hand," "The Sun Has Got His Hat On"), but you will walk out humming the physical comedy.

"Me and My Girl" must be celebrated for the wit of its stage business (a deep bow to Ockrent on this), most of which rests with Bill Snibson. Here "The Rocky Horror Show's" Curry is a revelation. Nothing sinister about this fellow. Sporting a toothy, disarming grin, he is facile, inventive, relaxed, footloose and fancy-free, whether he's melting like the Wicked Witch of the West or growing 10 feet tall in coronet and "vermin" cape.

He is supported in style by a plucky Donna Bullock as his bright Cockney girlfriend who, when she can't talk Billy out of loving her, conveniently transforms into a latter-day Eliza Doolittle. And what a transformation it is.

Ursula Smith, from the London company, deserves perhaps the highest honors for turning the matronly Duchess of Dene, Billy's personal Emily Post and a potential virago, into something of a titled Mrs. Thatcher: You can't like her, but you have to admire her.

And there are others, especially Susan Cella as the pleasantly conniving Lady Jacquie, who'd like Bill's money if not his bod; Barrie Ingham as Sir John Tremayne, an elegant, henpecked bumbler who loves the duchess in his own way. And Nick Ullett as good old Gerald Bolingbroke, Jacquie's fiance, who's allergic to work and may have been hired for having the most nasally occluded way of saying "yeeeeeeesss."

Nonsense, as noted earlier, but good, mindless, really smart nonsense, which adds up to an evening full of fun. It may not broaden your understanding of the human condition or challenge much more than your funny bone, but it will do that and very pleasantly.

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