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'Boy Friend' Needs Bigger Allowance to Show Off

Theater review: Budget production values keep a revival of the musical from being the catch it was in the '50s.

April 25, 1998|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If Sandy Wilson's lighter-than-air musical "The Boy Friend" is in the hands of stylists who thrive on the superficial--like Ken Russell or Tommy Tune--it's sweet, piquant and bubbly. Layered with enough glitz and glamour, "The Boy Friend" is even date-worthy.

Yet produced on a shoestring, as it is in this revival at La Habra Depot Theatre, "The Boy Friend" seems silly. Even in the tried-and-true subgenre of musical romance fantasies, there's something about the 1954 show--without the distractions and exclamation points a Russell could bring to it--that's downright embarrassing in the late '90s. It's now hard to think of this show in the same class as "Oklahoma!" as it once was.

Held together by the thinnest of books (the story takes a mere 90 minutes), "The Boy Friend" is a vehicle for dance numbers. That's where director Stephen Gomer's staging and Karen Baker's choreography fall badly short.

Perhaps cramped by the smallish stage, the cast never delivers the energetic joie de vivre required by numbers such as "Won't You Charleston With Me" or "The Riviera." The effect isn't that of entertaining giddiness (this is the Roaring '20s, after all), but rather of going through the motions.

Wilson sets the story in a French finishing school, with girls including catty Maisie (Cassie Rowell, in the only performance that sizzles) and nice Polly (Elizabeth Greene), who falls in love with a guy who appears to be a lowly messenger named Tony (Cesar Lemus).

*

We know better, though, because Tony is too right for Polly not to be another rich kid. The plot degrades from there, down to a borderline creepy dalliance between characters who might as well be Lolita and Humbert Humbert.

It's why any "Boy Friend" has to be drowned in the gravy of production values--so we don't notice the inedible parts. From musical director Karen Cushing's and musical arranger Patrick Copeland's overly synthesized, taped score to John Fejes' flat lighting, there's not enough showiness in this show. You know something's out of whack when the highlight is a scene change--complete with strobe lights, pratfalls and split-second timing from the scenery crew.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* "The Boy Friend," La Habra Depot Theatre, 311 S. Euclid St. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. $8-$10. Ends May 9. (562) 690-3321 or (562) 905-9625. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Elizabeth Greene: Polly

Cesar Lemus: Tony

Sandra Turpin: Madame Dubonet

Cassie Rowell: Maisie

Timothy O'Neill: Percival

David Nestor: Bobby

Jenn Lapointe: Hortense

Sarah van der Pol: Dulcie

Michelle Tenazas: Fay

Brooke Bucellato: Nancy

Lance Aiello: Lord Brockhurst

Mary Kay Lance: Lady Brockhurst

A La Habra Depot Theatre production of Sandy Wilson's musical. Directed by Stephen Gomer. Musical director: Karen Cushing. Musical arranger: Patrick Copeland. Choreographer: Karen Baker. Lights: John Fejes. Set: Leon Waller and Gomer. Costumes: Bridgett Steed. Stage manager: Lisa Heath.

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