A Little of What You Fancy
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 2, 2005
What I know about British Music Hall comes from Rupert Holmes's The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which takes place in one, plus snippets of Monty Python, Benny Hill, The Two Ronnies, and Des O'Connor on the Kraft Music Hall, all of whom are among its varied and various descendants.
Which is to say, I know very little indeed; so Theater Ten Ten's "authentic British Music Hall" A Little of What You Fancy... proves to be as educational as it is entertaining. Either motivation provides sufficient rewards to justify spending an evening at this light-hearted gambol backward in time.
The thing I found out that surprised me the most is that Music Hall resembles American vaudeville less than it does the old-fashioned topical revue (which morphed into the old-fashioned variety show when TV took over). A company of players appear in a series of sketches and musical numbers and lead the audience in a few sing-alongs (lyric sheets are provided). The emphasis is on the comfortable and familiar, and having an easy, good time on both sides of the footlights.
The "Chairman" (whom we might call the "master of ceremonies") rules the roost, introducing the acts and offering wry commentary in between (and even taking the stage himself occasionally, most memorably singing and dancing to the old chestnut "The Man Who Broke the Bank in Monte Carlo"). His name is Bennett Pologe, and he's a lanky, genial fellow with a pleasant voice, expert comic timing, and an elaborate handlebar moustache. Rivaling him in importance to the smooth progress of the evening is musical director Jason Wynn, stage right at the keyboards, who utters not a single word but manages to get in a fair number of eloquent observations of his own with a turned-up eyebrow, a withheld or prolonged note, or a well-timed (synthesized) drum roll. (Wynn is an excellent accompanist, especially when he gets to cut loose with some American ragtime; he's also responsible for the fine arrangements heard throughout the evening.)
The players number eight, and are a talented, versatile group; each gets at least one moment to shine. Christina Hallop and Kristopher Monroe are the ingenue and juvenile, and they show off their sweet voices in the songs "Silver Star of Love" (her) and "If You Were the Only Girl in the World" (him). Jean McCormick, an engaging singer and comedienne, does a "trouser" number as a randy soldier, "Jolly Good Luck to the Girl That Loves a Soldier"—it's a lot of fun. Greg Horton, more or less her male counterpart, wraps his tongue around the twisty rhymes of "Which Switch Is the Switch, Miss?" which is about a dissatisfied customer of the phone company whose call was put through to Norwich instead of Ipswich.
Laurrinda Robinson is the silver-throated soubrette of the evening, teaming deliciously with Hallop in the frisky "Every Little Movement" and going solo as a spoiled little girl in "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow-Wow." David Tillistrand does a bit of eccentric singing and dancing, and really shines in the witty number "The Employment Agency" (teamed with Horton and Monroe), in which he plays a fellow doing his darnedest to get a job but thwarted at every turn. (Tillistrand is also very funny delivering a running gag, which has him—having apparently drawn the short straw backstage—serving as the evening's substitute stage hand.)
Anthony Morelli, billed as a visiting American and therefore performing without the British accent affected by the rest of the company, sings a song from his native land, "Dapper Dan from Dear Old Dixieland"—he's great, and the song, which I've heard of but never actually heard before, is a fun and fascinating find. The energetic Morelli also does a novelty number called "I Do Love to be Beside the Seaside," which is the first sing-along of the evening, and partners Cristiane Young in another crowd-pleaser, "Daisy, Daisy" (which you may know as "A Bicycle Built for Two"); he also plays the ukulele at one point.
Young, who will be familiar to Theater Ten Ten regulars from such shows as Iolanthe and The Pirates of Penzance, is at her regal best here, showing off her range by singing the naughty lament of an artist's wife "It's All Right in the Summertime" and turning up later in a Bea Lillie wordplay skit about a dozen double damask dinner napkins. Young is grand—she's got the bearing and ruffled dignity of Margaret Dumont, but she's also a got a sense of humor and she can sing.
Director David Seatter, who co-created and -conceived the show with Wynn and Ten Ten producing artistic director Judith Jarosz, does a splendid job throughout. Appropriate, pretty costumes by Viviane Galloway; a modest set by Lucie Chin, and effective lighting by Jay Scott complete the picture.
A Little of What You Fancy... is a charmer, from beginning to end. By the finale—a salute to food and drink—everybody in the audience was lustily joining in on the choruses and beaming from ear to ear. British Music Hall can be, we now know, authentically fun. Don't be bashful: partake.