The popularity of musical theater in the middle part of the past century brought with it a few gentle spoofs of the genre — “Little Mary Sunshine” and “Dames at Sea” among the most notable.
The satirical art also flowered in England, where Gilbert and Sullivan had lampooned the music hall shows a century before. Probably the best example of this trend came in Sandy Wilson’s 1953 musical “The Boy Friend,” which was most notable for introducing Julie Andrews to American producers, thus paving the way for “My Fair Lady.”
The Newport Theatre Arts Center has dusted off this vintage piece of British fluff and trotted it out front and center in a sparkling revival that’s rich in character, costumes and choreography. It also boasts a luminous heroine who’s only appearing in about half the performances due to school and work (Cinderella at Disneyland) commitments.
Director Larry Watts has put a glittering touch on this golden oldie, which he also choreographed and shares costume design credit with Tom Phillips. His characters put their best feet (and faces) forward, often lapsing into the presentational style of the lampooned era, the 1920s, and playing even straight conversations flatly out front.
“The Boy Friend” is set in a French finishing school for young ladies and focuses on a “poor little rich girl” who falls for an apparent messenger boy. A beach holiday and an elaborate masquerade ball ensue, spotlighting both the comedy and the costumes.
At Newport, Allison Sheppard is delightful as Polly, the beautiful young heiress. This 17-year-old senior at Newport Harbor High School exhibits a wealth of musical comedy talent and hopefully will continue to exhibit it locally. She shares the role with Amanda Minano.
Brad J. Barnes staunchly takes the role of Tony, the “messenger,” crooning the show’s romantic theme, “I Could Be Happy with You,” in a duet with Polly. Aiding the young lovers’ quest is a crafty French maid (the splendid Margie Ikerd-Gyorgy) who tends to steal her scenes.
As her fun-loving best friend, the scarlet-tressed Asha Noel Iyer is a joy to watch as she spins her web for her American swain, the towering, smirking Matt Williams. Headmistress Jeannine Barba keeps an eagle eye on her charges while being warmed up by an old flame, Victor Anthony Cocchiaro, who also happens to be Polly’s father.
Comedic relief arrives in the doddering, bug-eyed form of Larry Blake, a classic dirty old man with designs on a young student (Emily Turner) who fends him off with all the flourish of a bullfighter. Dawn Vasco excels as the old goat’s wife who attempts to keep a tight reign on her shifty spouse.
Rich background support is offered by the other girls at the school (Sigal Willner and Autumn Powers) and their male pursuers (Nathan Stanton, Myles Warner, Tyler Marshall and Andrew Manzani). Choreography in their production numbers is smoothly accomplished.
“The Boy Friend” is one of those cotton-candy delights that succeed both as a musical comedy and a satire of the art form. It’s a tuneful, enjoyable evening at the Newport Theatre Arts Center.
If You Go
What: “The Boy Friend”
Where: Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays through July 1, and 2 p.m. June 30
Cost: $21; season tickets are available for $65 for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening shows and $70 for matinees
Information: (949) 631-0288 or https://www.ntaconline.com