The late 1930s, London-based musical, Me and My Girl, now playing at the Gateway Theater on Jackson Street in San Francisco, through May 20, is a delightful, highly entertaining work. Besides having excellent dancing and singing (for instance, the hit song and dance number, “The Lambeth Walk,” became a dance craze across Europe), the storyline illustrates the injustice of the class system in England at that time, which was somewhat tempered by the two world wars.
The premise is that an upper class, titled family has discovered that the 14th heir to the Earl of Hareford is Bill Snibson a “low-class” bloke, played by the incredibly talented, engaging Keith Pinto. Bill is invited to the estate to meet his relatives- Sir John Tremayne (perfectly depicted by Michael Patrick Gaffney) and the Duchess (likewise, the engaging Milissa Carey) whose bemusement by Bill’s antics bleeds through her composure. Sir John and the Duchess, as well as the servants, are shocked by Bill’s coarse speech and low-class manners (dialect coach: Lynne Soffer). The stickler is that they must approve of him before he can claim his inheritance. They have arranged his engagement to spoiled, petulant and testy Lady Jacqueline Carstone, winningly and beautifully played by Elise Youseff. But Snibson is committed to his girlfriend Sally Smith (Melissa WolfKlain lands a knockout performance as Sally.) In a Pygmalion-like ploy, one of the servant’s is recruited to instruct Sally in the high-society manner of the elites. She becomes refined, exchanging her flamboyant cockney dress to a more conservative style, thus helping Bill gain the approval of the Duchess and Sir John. Bill both inherits the title and keeps his girl. Interestingly Bill and his chums slowly infuse the inhabitants of the manor with popular song and dance bringing everyone , except Bill, Sally and their friends, down a peg or two. I thought it was a nice balance in that the so-called lower-class did not resort to putting on airs, thus losing their inherent naturalness; rather the wealthy, landed gentry learned to loosen up, laugh, dance and sing.
Bill, now costumed more fittingly as an Earl, Sally and their friends throw his new relatives a rousing dance party where a trio (behind the set), which sounded like a full swing band with Dave Dobrusky on piano (also, music director); Nick Di Scala, reeds; and Max Judelson on bass. The trio breaks all stops with toe-tappin’, body-shaken jitterbug, and big-band swing. Sir John shows up in relaxed garb: his pants rolled up to his knees with knee-length stockings. Obviously in his cups. he carries a bottle of liquor. The dance duo, Pearly King and Pearly Queen, played by Nicole Heifer and Nicholas Yenson, were decked out in wild purple suits and oversized, newsboy caps decorated all over with huge white buttons in the style of Mummers. It was all we could do to keep from jumping up from our seats and joining them.
Not a false note was struck, from artist and scenic designer Brian Watson’s set; costumes by Liz Martin, wig designer: Lexie Lazear, and choreographer Mindy Cooper. Sadly it ended Sunday, May 20, having run concurrently with the New York production at Encores! at City Center, companies dedicated to reviving lost or and lesser-known musicals. Hopefully it will return again soon with 42nd St. Moon at the Gateway Theater, here. If it does, make a point to see it.