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Summer show emphasizes comedy, music
Sterling community member Seth Svaty plays the central role of Bill in the musical comedy “Me and My Girl.” Here he is pictured rehearsing some of the comic business involving a huge royal cloak, crown and a lively tiger skin rug.

STERLING — For its first show back onstage after an absence due to COVID, the Sterling Community Theatre Troupe wanted to feature a show with fun characters, great music and dances – and maybe tap – as well as a lot of laughs. They found the perfect mix in “Me and My Girl,” which will be presented at 7:30 p.m. July 1-3 at the Sterling High School Theatre. Tickets for the production are $10 for adults and $5 for students and will be available at the door before each performance. 

Sterling’s summer show is being billed as a “good, old-fashioned musical comedy.” A recent British revival of “Me and My Girl” elicited this response: “If you like an enthusiastic cast, tap dancing, singing and comedy all thrown into one with a touch of nostalgia then this is the show to see,” as well as, “People who love musicals will really, really love this one.” 

The show is pure fluff. The plot revolves around Bill Snibson, a Cockney gent discovered to be the long lost heir to the Earl of Hareford. Summoned to the estate to assume his destiny as a nobleman, Bill runs into conflict with the aristocrats determined to remake him. However, Bill will have none of it, especially since it involves ditching the equally common Sally, the love of his life. Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

The comedy in “musical comedy” started to go missing in the 1980s as shows about felines seeking redemption (“Cats”) and students manning the barricades (“Les Misérables”) steamrolled Broadway and London’s West End. Then out of the past came a revival of songwriter Noel Gay’s “Me and My Girl,” which had all of London doing the “The Lambeth Walk” in 1937.

The revival, a surprise smash in the West End in 1984, opened in New York in 1986, made a star of leading man Robert Lindsay and won three Tony Awards. The show was seen by Sterling College Theatre audiences in 2001 but has not had many stagings in the years since. 

Stephen Fry, the celebrated British actor and writer, was part of the team that blew the cobwebs off “Me and My Girl” in the 1980s. His agent back then was Richard Armitage, who was the composer’s son.

“I happened to be staying the weekend at Richard’s marvelous country house,” Fry recalls, “and just before bedtime, he put down this smudged carbon copy script of ‘Me and My Girl’ and asked me to read it.”

Fry thought the script was “hokey but charming” but he had never heard of the show.

“That was my father’s musical,” Armitage told him, “and it was the longest running show in England until that Andrew Lloyd Webber came along.”

Fry and director Mike Ockrent rewrote the script, dropping old jokes, trimming a long second act and adding songs from Gay’s catalog that would catch on during the show’s runs in London and New York: “Leaning on a Lamp Post,” “The Sun Has Got His Hat On” and the lovely ballad “Once You Lose Your Heart.”

“It’s a British music hall style of show, which means it’s a unique blend of comedy and upbeat songs,” said Dennis Dutton, director of the Sterling production. The music is really tuneful and melodic and the dancing is high energy and fun but it’s the comedy that sets it apart, Dutton feels.

The show has its roots with a popular British music hall performer of the 1930s – Lupino Lane. After playing the character of Bill Snibson to great acclaim in an earlier play in 1935, he convinced playwright Douglas Furber to write a new play for the character, this time featuring the music of Noel Gay. It became “The Lambeth Walk” and was a made into a movie hit in 1939. For years after Lupino would revive the show onstage continuing to hone a series of comic routines. Those comic routines became as popular as the music and found their way into the revival in 1984.

Comic bits of business in the show largely stem from the clash of class and culture between the Cockney, working class characters and the aristocracy. The comedy includes word-play and innuendo as well as instances of utter confusion. Broad visual comedy is incorporated throughout the show as well, such as the use of a 12-foot royal cloak and a playful tiger-skin rug. 

“There are about 30 comic bits of business involving the cloak which takes place over three pages of the script,” Dutton said. The script also indicates “Bill plays with the tiger” but no specific comic business. Dutton and Seth Svaty who is playing the central role of Bill in the show have up with almost 40 individual comic bits of business with the tiger-skin rug, which accounts for about two minutes of stage time. The library scene where Bill does battle with the aristocracy and a long line of his descendants come to life is a comic high point. 

Tickets for Sterling’s production of the musical comedy are $10 for adults and $5 for students and will be available at the door before each performance.