Today’s Musical Theatre Sunday School continues with the readathon of The Boy Friend by Sandy Wilson, which we started two weeks ago. We’ve covered the preface, author’s note and first act so far and today’s reading focuses on Act II – which takes up pages 53 – 91 in the 1955 Andre Deutsch edition.
The act moves like lightening though the events of the act. Act 2 all takes place at the seaside and revolved around Polly and Tony’s meeting, which is surrounded by the numerous antics of the girls, boys and Hortense. The romance between Mme Dubonnet and Percival also continues to bloom – or rather, not to bloom as the case may be. And we are introduced to Lord and Lady Brockhurst, the former of which has an eye for young ladies and the latter of which suffers no fools, including her husband. It turns out that they are Tony’s parents and, by the end of the act, they are the cause of Tony and Polly’s separation, leaving us wondering whether they will ever be reunited before the final curtain. (Of course, we know they will – but how?)
All of the salient plot points are once again delightfully illustrated by Sandy Wilson. My favourite in this act is a sketch of Hortense proclaiming why it is so much “Nicer in Nice” on page 71. The songs that appear alongside that one in this act are: “Sur Le Plage”, “A Room in Bloomsbury”, “The You-Don’t-Want-to-Play-With-Me Blues”, “Safety in Numbers” and two reprises of “I Could Be Happy With You”. The best of these is the completely winning “A Room in Bloomsbury”, which is a throwback to Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “A Tiny Flat Near Soho Square” from their 1926 musical, Lido Lady. (It’s also worth mentioning, at this point, since I didn’t last week, that “I Could Be Happy With You” is a reference to “I Want to Be Happy” from the 1925 musical, No, No, Nanette. Wilson certainly knew his stuff when it came to the 1920s!)
While there is still much in which one can delight in the second act songs, they are perhaps less satisfying on the whole than those from Act I. I think the thing that is frustrating about them is Wilson’s tendency to split up a single lyric line over several musical phrases and that the rhyme schemes are constructed as tightly so as to hold the thoughts together, as they are in the first act. Indeed, because Wilson is showing off a bit more with some deft rhymes, like those in “Nicer in Nice”, attention is called to the broken phrases. But given that these songs are intended to be a pastiche of a particular style of lyric writing, that which was very much en vogue in the 1920s, I tend to think it matters less than if they were simply a set of lyrics for a musical play with no such reference point.
The delightful characters continue to play with the stock character constructions of the 1920s musicals. The three primary romances all get into typical second act conundrums: it appears that Tony is only after Polly’s money, though thanks to a healthy dose of dramatic irony we all know this isn’t true; Percy refuses to bow to Mme Dubonnet’s attempts to kindle their romance; and Maisie keeps the boys, especially Bobby, guessing about who she will dance with at the carnival. It is classic three act structuring, perfectly executed. The coincidental and highly convenient arrival of the Brockhursts on the scene is a typical 1920s-style plot development, and their offering comic obstacles to the comic couples and a serious obstacle to the romantic couple is textbook stuff, yet another testament to Wilson’s knowledge and love of the period. His genuine affection for those 1920s shows (as well as his skill) is revealed by the way he takes the hackneyed techniques and motifs and that were the standard building blocks of those musicals and distills each to its essence, thereby showing each off at its best. Some of the genuine 1920s shows tended to become rather convoluted in the way they packed in all of the bits and pieces that were expected of them, but The Boy Friend is marvelously free of such clutter.
So, what did you think of Act II? Share your thoughts about this act the comment box below. In the meantime, I’ll start reading the final act, which we’ll discuss next week. See you then!