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Review: Christian Borle and Laura Michelle Kelly Lead a Top Shelf Encores! Cast In a Smashing ME AND MY GIRL

Playgoers in the know will arrive at any production of the 1937 West End smash Me and My Girl already humming a bit of its legendary Act I closer "The Lambeth Walk," looking forward to a rousing showstopper where composer Noel Gay's peppy earworm is matched with co-bookwriter/lyricists L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber's jaunty words celebrating that part of London where "everything's free and easy" and you can "do as you darn well pleasey."

Me and My Girl
Christian Borle and Laura Michelle Kelly
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

And when the time comes for that classic moment in director/choreographer Warren Carlyle's slam-bang City Center Encores! concert production, the top-shelf company of musical comedy masters sure doesn't disappoint.

Led by Christian Borle, playing Bill Snibson, a wise-cracking Lambeth rowdy who, due to a newly-discovered quirk in the line of succession, has inherited the title of Earl of Hareford, the number builds and builds, until it overflows into the aisles with boisterous music hall spirit, good-natured clowning and extra percussion supplied by expert spoon-clacking.

But what this weekend's audiences might not be prepared for is that when the second act commences, Welch-born actor Mark Evans, taking a break from his Broadway debut engagement as a replacement in THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, will positively gobsmack the crowd, leading the ensemble in a frothy and fierce tap routine to a once-popular, now relatively forgotten ditty, "The Sun Has Got His Hat On."

Playing the small supporting role of The Hon. Gerald Bolingbroke, a cash-poor but devilishly handsome upper-cruster, the number has he and his cohorts merrily celebrating a chance to partake in an afternoon of outdoor sports and socializing. Clad in athletic beige and white, he thrusts his arms, buckles his knees and occasionally sticks out his tush; continually flashing a toothy grin in a frisky display of madcap silliness that contrasts with the clean and quick-paced precision of his and the ensemble's metal-adorned footwear. It's weird and wonderful and a terrific showcase for this charismatic comical talent.

But one of the great pleasures of this mounting is that the stage is never lacking for talented performers who know how to delight an audience. In his leading role as a fish out of water whose lack of social graces fuels an evening full of zingers and puns, Borle incorporates an acerbic Groucho-like delivery that bats every joke out of the park.

Me and My Girl
Mark Evans and Company
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The gist of the plot is that a requirement of Bill's title is that he find a suitable bride, but his Cockney girlfriend Sally is simply deemed unacceptable by family matriarch Duchess of Dene (always brilliant Harriet Harris supplying the haughtiness). Bill is willing to give up his inheritance for Sally, but the selfless sweetheart, wanting the best for her lad, is willing to step aside so that he may enjoy a privileged life.

Laura Michelle Kelly is quite heartwarming as Sally, whether sweetly clowning with Borle as they sing and dance to the title song, or bravely wearing emotions on her sleeve as she belts the love anthem "Once You Lose Your Heart."

Love's eventual triumph comes when the frequently-imbibing Sir John Tremayne (Chuck Cooper, having a grand time of it) sobers up long enough to save the day with a plot twist that cleverly gives a nod to George Bernard Shaw.

Using a hilariously snooty voice and D'Oyle Carte panache, Don Stephenson is a riot as the family solicitor and Lisa O'Hara is a snazzy treat as the sexy socialite who attempts to vamp Bill for his title and fortune.

The Encores! production uses a trimmed down version of Stephen Fry and Michael Ockrent's revised book, created for the 1985 West End revival that came to Broadway the next year. Most significantly, that revival added another Gay hit to the score, the charmingly wistful "Leaning on a Lamp-post."

Music director Rob Berman conducts the 27-member on-stage orchestra, with Chris Walker's orchestrations emphasizing the glorious period sound that's heavy on the strings and muted brass.

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