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'20s roar in Robinson Secondary School’s 'The Boy Friend'

Grace Donovan, a student at Osbourn High School, reviews “The Boy Friend” performed by J. Robinson Secondary School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

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Robinson Secondary School’s Fabiolla Brennecke, Madison Auch and Julian Rosen. (Photo by Frank Ruth)

French Riviera. A suntan and hotdogs? Non. L'amour? Oui. And there’s plenty of that when the happy-go-lucky girls of a British finishing school prepare for their ball. First performed in 1954, The Boy Friend was Julie Andrew's first Broadway show. With panache and flair, Robinson Secondary School parodied classic 1920s musicals with a combination of light-hearted songs, fun dances, and a gifted cast.

Set in an all girls’ French boarding school run by Madame Dubonnet (Madison Auch), the local residents include the rich and lonely Polly Browne (Corrie McNulty) and coquettish and easy-going Maisie (Erica Heer). While Maisie flirtatiously taunts wealthy and love struck Bobby Van Husen (Alex Alferov), Polly meets the poor and shy Tony (Ben Johnson). All are preparing for the evening ball, including Madame Dubonnet who is interested in Polly’s father Percival Browne (Julian Rosen). After some dance numbers, white lies, and playful games of hard-to-get, each couple finds their own meaning of love.

Auch was graceful and versatile onstage. Her movements were delicate and fluid, even her subtle expressions were elegant. Batting her eyelashes or pouting her lips, Auch was charming. But she could just as easily transform into motherly and protective: patting the hair of a crying student or cooing over the girls, Auch made for a lovable headmistress with plausible chemistry. Her vocals were also strong, and she shone in her duets.

Heer (Maisie) was a delightful character to watch, with her complicated dance numbers that included flips onstage. Her rendition of the Charleston with Alferov was impressive, and so were her other dance numbers, including “Safety in Numbers” in which she stood out among an ensemble of admiring beach-goers.

Johnson also did an excellent job of characterizing his character as awkward but endearing. Shuffling feet and avoiding kisses, Johnson gradually developed into the braver and more forward character who the audience grew to love.

With such a big cast, some of the strongest scenes included the large ensembles. The beginning and namesake song, “The Boyfriend,” utilized every school girl to take over the stage in cheery song and dance. Some characters seemed unsure, and there were some lapses in accents. Overall, though, the actors’ bubbly dispositions proved contagious to the audience.

Vocals were almost consistently strong throughout. Creativity was apparent, especially in one scene in which two dancers in the background mirrored Madame Dubonnet and Percival Browne to create an illusion of a memory.

The set was changed for every act, and each set was detailed. The stage converted from an office to a beach to a ballroom. Whether it was windows in the office or tents on the beach, the set allowed for actors to pop out during songs. The costumes, though relatively simple, were appropriate for the show. Couples were color-coordinated in pastels, and the final ball scene epitomized 1920s flapper fashions.

Too often love is portrayed as a burden, as a sort of trial of human will. But Robinson Secondary School showed the quirkiness of romance through festive exposition. The talented cast celebrated relationships through captivating songs and upbeat dances, and by giving its audience a million reasons to fall in love, they proved that there really is “safety in numbers.”

By Grace Donovan, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  May 20, 2010; 9:50 AM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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