It is 1936, a time of political and economic turmoil. The United States is in the throes of the Great Depression, and Europe is just beginning to learn of Hitler’s menace. But at the Savoy hotel in London, dashing American journalist Casey O’Brien is facing his own crisis. Having enjoyed the Savoy’s hospitality a little too much, he sleeps through the scoop of the century: King Edward’s abdication with Wallis Simpson. Casey must find a story to save his reputation, and settles on the marriage of sassy Boston millionaire Clarence Cutler to little-known British aristocrat Guy Rose. But when Cutler is jilted at the altar by Rose, Casey sets off in search of the mysterious noble.
So begins this Cinderella tale: “Boy Meets Boy, Boy Loses Boy, Boy Gets Boy in the End”.
Cheek to (naked) cheek, Boy Meets Boy is an unexpected gem of a musical: an old-fashioned love story, with an original and heart-warming twist. Originally premiered off-Broadway in 1973, it was pioneering in its embracement of love in all forms – in this world it makes no difference whether the partner is a man or a woman. The musical opens to society’s excitement at the impending nuptials of Cutler and Rose – the fact that this is a same-sex marriage does not matter a wit.
The musical, written by Bill Solly and Donald Ward, is delightfully light. It doesn’t break down social boundaries, or highlight society’s norms; it takes judgement completely out of the equation altogether. We are left with a story that shows how easy, when all prejudices are stripped away, it is to celebrate love. The score is varied in style and form, the lyrics clever, and the script highly intelligent and very funny.
With its intimacy and understated luxury, the Jermyn Street Theatre is an excellent setting for the UK premiere of Boy Meets Boy. The performance marks director Gene David Kirk’s swansong at the helm of the Jermyn Street Artistic team, and what a way to end a wonderful term. Complemented by Alice Walking’s set design and Stefan Bednarczyk’s musical direction, Kirk deftly transports the audience from modern London to this lavish ‘world of cocktails and carriages, black-tie and ball dresses, where Nightingales sing in Berkeley Square and unconventional romance blooms’.
Similarly, while having a rather small stage on which to set his craft, Lee Proud has done a masterful job with the choreography, from the crisp opening number with its oh-so aristocratic tableaux, to the easy breezy Rogers-Astaire tap dancing, to the sumptuous Parisian cabaret, with its dapper waiters and saucy can-can girls.
Stephen Ashfield, who won great acclaim for his role as Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys, plays the role of Casey with a silky smooth depth and charm. His rendition of ‘In Love Never’ in Act Two was quite simply enrapturing, while his playful and charismatic duet with Clarence Cutler – ‘Just my luck’, was vocally and physically reminiscent of a certain blue-eyed Casanova.
Craig Fletcher, as Guy Rose, made the transition from a delightfully twee, naïve young Englishman to the dashing and poised gentleman of Ashfield’s desire, showing off Fletcher’s versatility. But the star of the show for me was Ben Kavanagh, bringing fabulous comic timing and delectable Machiavellian wit to the role of Cutler. Kavanagh is, without doubt, one to watch.
Both the script and lyrics of Boy Meets Boy have elements of Wilde’s wit and Cowards’ charm, but without the sometimes darker element that necessarily reflects the attitudes and prejudices of the era. As a result, the production is light, joyous and frequently very funny. A festive treat that will put a smile on anyone’s face, Boy Meets Boy is thoroughly refreshing, and highly recommended.
Review by Emma Slater who you can follow on Twitter @eslater6
Jermyn Street Theatre
16b Jermyn Street,
London SW1Y 6ST
Thursday 29th November 2012