We are fortunate to have two of the best theatre companies in our immediate area, Dramaworks 20 minutes to our south and The Maltz Jupiter Theatre 20 minutes to our north. The former is a serious regional theatre specializing in classic plays,”theatre to think about” as it rightfully bills itself. The Maltz on the other hand specializes in musical theatre (and not traveling tours), although they will occasionally put on a dramatic play.
Many of the musicals produced at the Maltz are classic ones, such as Man of La Mancha, perhaps the best production of that show we’ve ever seen. Then there are the others, bordering on the silly side, such as Me and My Girl. But even then you can count on The Maltz to deliver a high energy professional production, so you forgive the selection and just sit back and enjoy the nonsensical. Having seen Me and My Girl Friday night, a very British musical first performed in the West End in 1937, you can’t help but be impressed by the production in spite of the very thin plot.
Bill, a cockney Londoner learns that he is an heir to the Earl of Hareford. However, he will not receive his inheritance until he becomes a little more “civilized” and therefore gets the approval of the Dutchess. Approval is withheld of course until he agrees to ditch his girlfriend, another cockney, Sally. True to his heart, he can’t do that and is prepared to go back to his old life until, voila, as fast as you can say “Eliza Doolittle,” Sally is transformed into a proper lady and all live happily ever after. The songs are mostly unmemorable (best known one is the “The Lambeth Walk”) so you would think there is nothing to retain interest in such light-hearted fare. However it is the perfect plot for lots of shtick!
It is the production itself, the performers, the incredible energy level and comic timing that made this an enjoyable evening. The cast has 26 talented people, probably the largest ensemble on any Florida stage (other than some touring companies) but this production has a secret entertainment weapon named Matt Loehr, who we’ve seen before at the Maltz in The Music Man, Hello Dolly, Crazy For You and The Will Rogers Follies. Not only can Loehr sing and dance with the best of them, he has that special athletic comedic gift, one similar to those skills Donald O’Conner demonstrated in the song "Make 'Em Laugh" from the film Singin' in the Rain One could not help but think of that number while Bill wrestles with his kingly robe. Loehr can do it all.
He’s joined on stage by his leading lady Julie Kleiner who undergoes the transformation from cockney gal to proper lady as Sally, Lauren Blackman as the lovely Lady Jacqueline who has designs on Bill herself, and Mary Stout who plays the terrifying Dutchess Maria who mellows when confronted by “true love.” There are so many in the cast I could cite, too many, but I would be remiss in not mentioning one of our favorite South Florida actors, Elizabeth Dimon, who plays a supporting role as Lady Battersby. Dimon is a consummate pro, whether playing demanding dramatic parts, as we’ve seen her play in numerous productions at Dramaworks, or musicals (she has a glorious singing voice). (In the photo below, she’s the second from the right.)
The direction of so many actors, dancers, and singers on the stage at one time is brilliantly accomplished by the very experienced James Brennan and kudos to the choreographer, Dan Knechtges, and to the scenic designer Paul Tate Depoo III. There are some very clever scene changes (such as several of Bill’s ancestors coming to life from portraits on the wall during the “Song of Hareford”). All the behind the scenes technical people do a first rate job.
So, The Maltz Jupiter Theatre hits another one out of the park with this full-of-fun musical. Next on their docket is The Producers.