Song cycle

The Girl Friend

By Herbert Fields, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart
Directed by Thomas Mills
Musical direction by James Stenborg
Musicals Tonight!
MainStage at the 14th St. YMHA
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Elias Stimac

The masterminds behind Musicals Tonight! once again found a rare gem and polished it to a fine sheen. Herbert Fields's The Girl Friend is a simple enough tale -- a bicycle rider goes from farmhand to toast of the town, thanks to the help from his female admirer. But with snappy music by Richard Rodgers and sneaky lyrics by Lorenz Hart, the rags-to-riches story from 1926 still displays a heart of gold -- and a tuneful ear, to boot.

When Leonard (Ashton Byrum) receives visitors at The Silver Dairy Farm in Long Island, little does he know that among them is a famous sports promoter, Arthur Spencer (Trip Plymale), who can take him to the big city and big races. But with the big move, Lenny is forced to decide between his hometown girl Mollie (Carey Anderson) and shapely city gal Wynn (Nanne Puritz). Plenty of complications ensue, with the usual results in the end, but the script and the score provided lots of laughs and occasional tugs at the heartstrings.

Thomas Mills directed and choreographed the show, doing a commendable job with the material. The dancing could have used a bit more pizzazz and polish, and the pacing could have been picked up a notch, but otherwise Mills staged the action smoothly and skillfully. Particularly clever within the staged reading guidelines of the production was the ever-intriguing use of actors' scripts, which was incorporated into the choreographed movements.

Musical director and vocal arranger James Stenborg kept the music lively throughout, a one-man orchestra working overtime at the piano. Lighting by Shih-hui Wu delineated the various locales, making up for the absence of formal sets.

The cast recreated the nostalgic era well, even though none of them were alive when the show debuted. Byrum portrayed "pedaling fool" Lenny with earnest conviction, sometimes too earnest. Anderson's Mollie was more down-to-earth, assuring her a triumph in the tug-of-war for Lenny's affections. Though she lost the boy, Puritz won the audience as Wynn, showing a sexy side of the sassy city slicker. Plymale made a formidable promoter, Todd Buonapane was a cheerful racing champ, and Jennifer Winegardner shone as his no-nonsense mate. Shane Peterman was sufficiently stuffy as Wynn's determined fiancé, and as Spencer's rough-and-tumble trainer, Bruce Sabath brought his colorful character to comical life. The rest of the ensemble featured Stephen Brockway, Michael Shane Ellis, Sarah Farnam, Elizabeth Ingram, Tim Roberts, David Michael Roth, Hollis Scarborough, Celia Tackaberry, Stephanie Waters, and Rickey Alfonso Eubanks, II.

A tip of the hat to producer Mel Miller and his staff for another enjoyable (bike) trip down memory lane!

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Performing: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2004 Elias Stimac