“Love is strictly for laughs” we’re told, and there’s no shortage of either in this lavishly mounted production of a forty year old show set forty years earlier. It’s a mystery why this funny, charming, tuneful musical is not better known. With music that channels the spirit of Irving Berlin and Noel Coward and lyrics with the witty facility of Cole Porter, Boy Meets Boy is one of those rare “hidden gems” to be unearthed on the fringe that genuinely shines.
Thankfully, and contrary to the impression that the title may give, this is not one of the “why can’t we be accepted” brigade, nor one of the “aren’t we fabulous for being us” school of gay musicals. London has seen plenty of both recently. It takes place in an imagined 1930s in which someone being gay was worthy of no comment whatsoever. The central trio is all boys but not a single line would need to change if one or two of them were girls. And that’s the point.
Handsome blonde American Casey (former Jersey Boy Stephen Ashfield) finds himself drawn to pert blonde English Guy (Craig Fletcher) while handsome blonde egotist (Ben Kavanagh) inserts a spanner and a few comic missiles in the works. As we are warned in the brilliantly choreographed opening ensemble number (Lee Proud once again proving worthy of his name), the story is pretty simple fare and touches on the familiar theme that if you look beneath the surface you’ll find what someone really is. In this case, Casey discovering what Guy really is involves Guy removing his glasses and putting on a coat. If only life was that simple.
What distinguishes it is the quality of the writing by Bill Solly and Donald Ward - from the ingeniousness of the lyrics to the wise-cracking of the book. Any show that rhymes “English Rose” with “quelque chose” and contains the line “I thought my bull’s foot was the bees knees” is fine by me. And it couldn’t be better served than by Gene David Kirk’s fast, fluid, detailed production (even the musicians dress for dinner) on Alice Walkling’s striking and adaptable set, perhaps the best I’ve ever seen at this address.
In a terrific ensemble cast, Kavanah shows terrific comic instincts (if perhaps slightly overdoing the Graham Norton facial contortions) and Ashfield, particularly in his second act solo, shows us how these things should be done. The production is tight and smooth (like the bare bottoms that are briefly displayed) and offers production values as well as dramatic ones, a combination which very few fringe musicals achieve.
Boy Meets Boy, like its central love triangle, is a light, bright and classy affair and deserves the success that has, unaccountably, alluded it so far.