"Me and My Girl" Struts Into Town
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Brush up your Cockney rhyming slang because “Me and My Girl,” a musical in which British low life and aristocracy collide, is coming to Arlington High School (AHS) on April 5, 6, and 7. (See below for further information.) A double Pygmalion story, the show chronicles the rise of Bill Snibson, itinerant fruit seller and pickpocket from Lambeth, a working-class borough of London, who discovers he is heir to the Earl of Hareford.
His aunt Maria, Duchess of Dene, tries to make him into an aristocrat, but her efforts are stymied because Bill won’t forsake his love, fellow Cockney and Lambeth resident Sally Smith, who is the girl of the title. The production features over a dozen hummable tunes with a variety of dance numbers, including the exuberant Cockney strut called the Lambeth Walk, and plenty of plot twists before Bill and Sally can be “happy ever after" (in the words of the title song). So take your cue from the Pearly Kings and Queens of London and strut on down to AHS to see the spoon-playing, high-stepping, guttersnipe-transforming “Me and My Girl.”
Senior Ben Horsburgh, who plays Bill, is well known to AHS audiences, having appeared as Cornelius Hackl in “Hello Dolly!” as well as Bobby Child in “Crazy for You,” Bob Baker in “Wonderful Town,” and Macduff in the recent AHS Drama Guild production of “Macbeth.” Of “Me and My Girl,” Horsburgh said, “The script is hilarious, with many opportunities for me to be goofy and larger than life.”
On the other hand, the show also includes what Horsburgh describes as “intense dancing,” especially in the ballet that follows Bill’s song “Leaning on a Lamp-Post” in which Sally appears to him in a vision. “I asked Annie [Schoonmaker, choreographer and AHS senior] to give me a challenge by using classical ballet movement, and she incorporated the dancing into the story and the music very well.”
The role of Bill requires Horsburgh to use Cockney and upper-class British accents, and he had plenty of practice with both back in sixth grade when he played the title character in the Arlington Friends of the Drama production of “Oliver!” His comfort with such speech patterns is also due in part to his family because his father is Australian. “Whenever I go to Australia, I put on an Australian accent to try to blend in. It’s very similar to Cockney, but a little broader,” Horsburgh noted.
A major joy for him in this show is dancing in the aisles during “The Lambeth Walk.” “I’m really excited about getting people in the audience up and dancing with us,” he noted.
Violet de Besche, who plays Sally Smith, is a junior in her first year at AHS as a transfer student. “I decided to come to AHS because the theatre program here is so strong. My brother, Zach , was in all the shows, and they were amazing. I’ve been super-well accepted by all the theatre kids, so it’s been really great.”
Commenting on Sally’s two solo songs, de Besche noted that “Once You Lose Your Heart” is “more lyrical and emotional,” and “Take It on the Chin,” reveals the good advice she has received from her “scrappy family." In addition to relishing the chance to master the Cockney accent, de Besche said she particularly loves playing the spoons (a musical instrument consisting of two spoons held back-to-back and beaten against the body) in "The Lambeth Walk." "I was able to learn how to play the spoons quickly even though I’d never done it before. It made me feel more connected to the Cockney culture," said de Besche.
Miles Shapiro, who appeared as Chick Clark in “Wonderful Town” and in the title role of “Macbeth,” plays Sir John Tremayne, one of the executors of the will that determines who will inherit the Hareford estate. “At first Sir John does not want Bill around,” said Shapiro, “but when he hears Sally sing “Once You Lose Your Heart,” he realizes she truly loves Bill, and his goal becomes making sure they aren’t split up.” In the song “Love Makes the World Go Round,” Sir John and Bill, both being a bit tipsy, have lots of silly stage business together. “It’s been great fun to share comic scenes with Ben and the cast,” Shapiro noted.
The matriarch of the Hareford family is Maria, Duchess of Dene, played by junior Lindsey Delbanco. “Maria believes in Bill and tries to teach him how to be a gentleman,” said Delbanco. To support her project, paintings of the family ancestors literally come to life (shades of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Ruddigore”) in “Song of Hareford,” which Delbanco sings.
Although Maria at first wants Bill to leave Sally and marry her daughter, Lady Jaqueline Carstone, she later realizes that “what’s best for him and what’s best for the family are not the same thing,” said Delbanco. When Sally undergoes a last-minute transformation (don’t miss the allusions to “My Fair Lady”) and proves herself to be a worthy consort for the Earl of Hareford, Maria achieves her goal of making Bill the heir.
Sophomore Chandler Betts plays the Honorable Gerald Bolingbroke, Lady Jaqueline's fiancé, whom she casts aside after finding out that Bill will inherit the family fortune. Said Betts, “My purpose in the show is to be the alternative heir if Bill doesn’t shape up. My song, ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On,’ opens Act II. It’s a welcome back to the audience after intermission, and it’s very playful.”
As Lady Jaqueline, sophomore Amy Scoggins has two solo songs. In the first, “Thinking of No One But Me,” she dismisses the hapless Bolingbroke and announces she will pursue Bill and his inheritance. Her second song, “You Would If You Could” is a blatant attempt to woo Bill, but he remains faithful to Sally. Noting that Lady Jaqueline is nothing if not assertive, Scoggins said, “It’s kind of fun to insist on being the center of attention. I’m not like that in real life, so this is a new experience for me.”
Helping to keep the production on track are three stage managers, all of whom are graduating this year. “When I was a freshman,” said stage manager Maggie Horgan, “I had no idea what my ‘thing’ in high school would be, and then theatre fell into my lap. The joy I feel on opening night when everything comes together seamlessly is an emotion I have yet to match in any other situation.”
Director Michael Byrne, who manages all aspects of “Me and My Girl” other than the music, describes it as “an old-fashioned, feel-good musical.” According to him, “’The Lambeth Walk’ is the heart of the production. It’s when people come together based on their commonalities rather than their differences. Dance is a universal language, and the Lambeth Walk is something everyone can do.”
If the Lambeth Walk can level ranks (as W.S. Gilbert might have put it), “The Lambeth Ballet” is a bit more rarefied. “Bill’s comedy is about physicality," said Byrne, "and so is his romance. The song 'Leaning on a Lamp-Post' comes late in the show, and we’ve been denied his romantic side until then. When he is finally able to let it out, it happens in an extended dance sequence."
As choreographer of that sequence, Schoonmaker noted, “What I wanted to express is that even before Sally comes onstage in that number, Bill is thinking about her and picturing their future life together. He realizes that he needs Sally as a partner in dance and in life.”
Underpinning the ballet and the entire show is the score, originally composed by Noel Gay. It will be performed by a 20-piece pit orchestra, including 12 students, and conducted by AHS director of instrumental music Sabato (“Tino”) D’Agostino. Byrne noted that “working with Tino and Maddie [Kitchen, AHS choral director] on this production is such a blessing. Tino brought in the student musicians about three weeks before the opening so that we could run the show with a partial orchestra [minus the professionals and alumni]. It’s an embarrassment of riches to have the orchestra playing through our rehearsals.”
One member of that orchestra is sophomore flutist Margaret Zimmer, who is a transfer student. “The performing arts program at my old school was centered on marching band,” said Zimmer, “and I would say the AHS program has better energy because everyone in it loves what they’re doing. Even though some of the music in this show is difficult, I find it to be very rewarding.”
D’Agostino, who has been the conductor of four AHS musicals, starting with “Hello Dolly!” in 2016, noted that “’Me and My Girl’ is a great and fun show. I am truly enjoying the music and some very catchy melodies. It’s not easy for pit musicians to follow the actors onstage, and my students have been doing a wonderful job.”
“Me and My Girl” will be performed on Friday, April 5, 7:30 pm; Saturday, April 6, 7:30 pm; and Sunday, April 7, 2 pm; at Arlington High School, Lowe Auditorium, 869 Massachusetts Avenue. Tickets, $15 for adults and $10 for students, are available through cast members, at the AHS main office, by calling (781) 316-3589, at http://ww1.mktix.com/page.php?wpage=home/home.htm, and at the door.