Farmer's Branch — What's nicer on a chill, rainy night on the North Texas prairie than the sweet breeze of a 1920's summer past on the French Riviera at Madame Dubonnet's finishing school for young ladies seeking love, marriage and a boisterous round of the Charleston? Or better yet, who cares?
Winter doldrums vanish when the red velvet curtain goes up on The Firehouse Theatre's The Boy Friend, Sandy Wilson's 1954 homage to 1920's musicals, directed with playful wit by Derek Whitener, the company's artistic director, assisted by Taylor Mercado Owen. Musical director Bethany Lorentzen weaves it all together with her seven-piece jazz ensemble, seated high above Wendy Rene'e Searcy's open set design, featuring bright pink swinging saloon doors with red hearts and lacy arches leading onto a hotel or bathhouse, depending on the whim of the pretty, proper girls.
Wilson's catchy tunes and witty lyrics energize the tried and trite plot, and the dotty English aristocrats and provocative French vamps are great fun to watch, on and off the beach.
Poor little rich girl Polly Browne (Morgan Maxey) pretends to be a lowly secretary at her posh school when she sets eyes on the handsome messenger boy Tony (Gabriel Ethridge ) who steals her heart at first dazzling smile. Of course, that darling boy in the sexy red jacket with brass buttons is actually born to the manor, and out on a spree in disguise. Oh, the confessions required of would-be poor lovers who are really over-the-top eligible.
Property master Adam Kullman provides the dancers with lovely carry-on waves and a faux-scary shark to suggest the seaside holiday scene. Choreographer Mindy Neuendorff and assistant Mark Quach liven up the evening with a high-kicking Charleston, romantic tangos and cool tap-dancing routines, executed with verve and elegance by the classy ensemble of 12 male and female dancers. The tight band revs them on, especially with the jazzy reeds and cool brass notes.
Costume designer Victor Newman Brockwell makes everything glitter, but his exceptionally gorgeous dresses are a special treat. The young women in the ensemble are models of 20's style, whether flaunting their svelte figures in fringe and sequins at the grand black and white ball, or kicking up sand in their spiffy bathing costumes on the beach in "It's Nicer in Nice."
Maxey's Polly is an anxious, somewhat awkward goody two-shoes among the young ladies, but all her classmates love her because she's pretty and her father, Percival Browne (stalwart Dan Servetnick in bold stripes and yearning smile) is a rich American industrialist. What else would he be? Maxey has a true voice that pairs engagingly with Ethridge's Tony in their romantic duets.
Ethridge is a hoot as the escaped scion of aristocrats. With a perfect bite and sparkling eyes, his Tony projects just the right air of breezy charm when wooing Polly, and offering his love in song. When the two sing "I Could Be Happy with You" (if you could be happy with me), the world is suddenly much simpler and sanguine when presented in this delightful musical equation. Who wouldn't be mad about this boy?
All the female dancers are quite fine, but beautiful, leggy Bailey Poe as the much-pursued Maisie is a stunner in all the dance numbers. She's even got a pert flair for comedy, especially when partnered by Ryan Nuss and the male ensemble in the teasing "Safety in Numbers" song. The male dancers look younger and less certain than their sophisticated partners in a couple of scenes, and one man's tux trousers needed shortening when I saw the show. Still, the leads are strong, and dance numbers always get tighter with each performance.
Francis Henry, in boater and gentleman's beach attire, does a stylish comic turn as the lecherous old Lord Brockhurst, scoping out the girls on the beach. "It's Never Too Late to Fall in Love," he sings plaintively to willing young Dulcie (coy Katelyn Anderson). Allison Reider as Lord B's domineering wife is hilarious in her watchful put-downs of her roving husband.
Andi Allen, the elegant image of matronly fashion, is tres French and slyly seductive as Madame DuBonnet, the head mistress of the school, fluttering her eyes as she recalls the days long ago when she knew "Percy" in another life.
On opening weekend, the Firehouse audience gave cast, crew and musicians a standing ovation after the all-out dancing finale, and the actors took a bow and waved back. Many youngsters attended the performance, and one little girl reached across the heart-shaped footlights and touched the red velvet curtain as she walked out behind her parents. What a terrific place to bring the next generation of thespians and theatergoers in the neighborhood into the room where it happens.