The Boyfriend. The name conjures a simple desire, a universal wish for companionship. The titular musical is no less straightforward in its drive. Billed as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of 1920s musicals upon its arrival in 1954, a look at The Boyfriend today brings only a nearly imperceptible wink; this is no longer a satire of ***image1***musical conventions, but an indication that our cultural profile has changed. In the 50 years of growing post-modern awareness since the play's debut, and up to the stylishly self-conscious, Fosse-touched productions of Cabaret and Chicago, the overwhelming majority of musicals register as little more than silly in their spontaneous bursts of song and sexless hoofing-they are already parodies. This point of view is arguably a loss for recent, jaded generations, but it is a loss to the current production of The Boyfriend as well.
Deprived of whatever edge and inside joke it may have once possessed, the play's pleasures are limited to crowd-pleasing ditties and kaleidoscopic dance routines. Set in that 1920s hotspot, the French Riviera, the story revolves around Polly Browne (Mary Wilson), a wealthy English girl who's finished being finished at the French finishing school of Mme. Dubonnet. Polly falls in love with Tony (Brandon Greenhouse), who she thinks is a lowly delivery boy, but both conceal facets of their identity that endanger and then cement their love. The cast does its best to overcome the demands of belting out head tones to the 500-seat Greer Garson Theater (helped considerably by their own personal mics), but the real ambition bubbles into the dance routines. Choreographer ***image2***Campbell Martin makes imaginative use of props and everything from beach balls to dancing girls are handled with something like aplomb. The appearance of Mark Morgan and Talia Willis marks the artistic highlight of the play as the two smolder through a tango, snapping each other sultry looks with thrilling precision.
Dramatically speaking, the pair of Mme. Dubonnet (played by the sparkling Ashley Gaas) and Anthony Fernandez, who plays Polly's father, have the best grasp on the period. Gaas has the worldly swagger and the vaguely European presence of an older Lotte Lenya and makes the most of a competent singing voice. Her eager advances are met charmingly by Fernandez's Percival Browne, who plays the flustered Englishman in the face of Gallic amorousness to the hilt. These two have done their homework. The best thing about them is they give the sense that you have seen them somewhere before, which is what The Boyfriend is counting on to begin with-you'll probably come out of the theater humming, even if you can't quite place the tune.