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Me and my girl.

Me and My Girl

"Any time you're Lambeth way

Any evening, any day.

You'll find us all

doin' the Lambeth walk.'

From: "The Lambeth Walk'

Featured in: Me and My Girl

Each night, between 8:00 and 10:30, something magical happens on the corner of 45th and Broadway in New York City. Nearly 1,600 people enter the rebuilt Marquis Theater, carrying the burdens of a workaday world on their shoulders, only to leave bouncing on tiptoes and whistling tunes unheard for more than 40 years.

No, these people are not victims of schizophrenia. They are among the thousands, of Americans who have given standing ovations to the cast of the acclaimed Broadway musical Me and My Girl.

The potion that has compelled the audience to set their troubles aside for a while is a 40-year-old English recipe of song, dance, and vaudevillian shtick. Its main ingredients are two wholesome stars--Jim Dale and Maryann Plunkett--seasoned by a supporting cast of veterans including George S. Irving, Jane Summerhays, and Jane Connell. Mike Ockrent directs a blend of lyrics and toe-tapping music, reminiscent of a world with much simpler values.

Me and My Girl, featuring the famous "Lambeth Walk,' was first performed in London in 1937 in the tense days before World War II. The show ran for five years, despite being bombed out of two theaters. But for some unexplained reason, its music was not heard again until the show's London revival in 1985. The play crossed the Atlantic in June of the next year and opened to raves in Los Angeles. Two months later, the ensemble moved to the bright lights and often caustic critics of Broadway.

Not even the usually callous New York audiences were immune to the spell cast by the combined talents of the performers and the stage crew. Newspaper and TV critics lost themselves in superlatives. The show and its cast won three Tony awards in all--for best actor, best actress, and best choreography in a musical.

Plots for musicals normally border on the fairy tale, and Me and My Girl is no exception. Young Bill Snibson, raised in the mythical London ghetto of Lambeth, is found to be the rightful "William of Hareford,' heir to a family fortune. But to receive his inheritance he must overcome scheming kinfolk, who seek to separate him from his little and from his Cockney girlfriend, Sally. The conflict comes to a head when Bill's pals crash a high-society party and lead the cast and audience in rhythmic applause to the famous "Lambeth Walk.'

Bill, played by the rubber-legged Jim Dale, sings, dances, tumbles, and taps across the stage as he shuns all snobbish pretense. His cutting remarks and slapstick acting earn disgusted looks from his new-found relatives and howls of laughter from the audience.

In contrast to other shows along the Great White Way, Me and My Girl is rare family entertainment. The two-act musical contains neither vulgarity nor nudity.

Yet the show does have sex appeal. Maryann Plunkett's interpretation of the bittersweet ballad "Once You Lose Your Heart' charms the audience with a rare combination of seduction and innocence. "That's not by accident,' Jim Dale says. "The entire play reflects an innocence that's been missing in our society. It's the kind of boy-girl relationship in which a first kiss is important. I may be old-fashioned, but I, for one, don't want to forget this kind of feeling.'

Throughout his career Dale has refused to reach for acceptance through obscenities. He's appalled at modern comedians who insist on peppering their acts with them. "With talent, timing, and practice, you can win over any crowd,' he says, "and you don't have to appeal to the lowest common denominator just to get a laugh.'

The live stage is more rewarding to Dale than working in front of a camera. He won a Tony award in 1980 for his title role in Barnum. "The theater has an immediacy to it,' he says. "It's a duet you play with the audience. One of the genuine joys I share with the rest of the cast of Me and My Girl is that before the curtain goes up, we're excited. We know we have a secret that will make the audience laugh a hundred times before the show is over.'

Maryann Plunkett echoes Dale's enthusiasm. "The joy that's in the show brings out the spunkiness inside all of us,' she says. "I've been playing this role for more than a year, but each performance feels fresh. Our entire cast is thrilled to share a story of love and loyalty with the audience.'

The bottom line is this: no visit to New York can be complete without seeing Me and My Girl. If you are among the fortunate who get tickets, you can join the parade of those whistling as they leave the theater. But be careful. You might catch yourself "doin' the Lambeth walk.'

Photo: Broadway stars Maryann Plunkett and Jim Dale (center) run away with audience hearts by "doin' the Lambeth walk.'
COPYRIGHT 1987 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Marquis Theater, New York City
Author:McCollister, John
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:Oct 1, 1987
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