Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: Old Time British Music Hall

Studio Theatre – Stage 4

Remaining Performances:
Tuesday, July 23, 7:45 p.m.
Friday, July 26, 10:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 28, 4:30 p.m.

They say: "British Music Hall is similar to American vaudeville and comprises songs, sketches and comedy – frequently relying on innuendo for the humor. Music Hall showcases soloists, chorus numbers, dancers, etc. introduced by our MC, Mr. Chairman, a very original comedian."

Rachel M's Take: There'll always be an Anglophile, that American irresistibly drawn to that unmistakable combination of wit, decorum, and the willingness to send oneself up that originates across the pond. And for us Anglophiles, there are The British Players, a group formed by members of the British Embassy in 1964 in order to educate Yanks about the way populist/working class theater ought to be.

"Music Hall" is a genre of performance, roughly analogous to vaudeville and cabaret, tremendously popular circa 1850 to 1950. You're supposed to sing along sometimes, and the leader of the proceedings, Mr. Chairman (a charming Malcolm Edwards) will instruct you on how to greet him in proper fashion. Other than Mr. Chairman's jokes, the show is all singing and dancing, from Albert Coia's shamelessly and wonderfully hammed-up comic ditties to Stephanie Offut's lovely soprano sentimental ode to Ireland, "A Little Bit of Heaven."

The jokes are all pleasingly arch, though sometimes delivered by men in terrible drag, and almost always about fools and romance; they're from an era in which one could be tricked into (difficult to reverse) marriage and people gave a jolly crap who was a virgin on her wedding day. But it was also an era in which song lyrics had meter and real verses and were meant to be sung by everyone. The songs, traditional music hall favorites, are all marvelously British, full of the affable, smug certainty that to be British is the best of all possible choices—a trait that, thank goodness, Americans do not share.

Kathy Suydam (whose accent sounded American to me, but Americans have an inferior ear for these things) had some fun numbers as a femme fatale who loves men and puns about equally. The male and female halves of the company each got a silly, physically comic song that built as each new singer was added.

No longer connected to the Embassy, The British Players have been performing their Music Hall show for 49 years, as Americans' favorite Brit imports ranged from the Beatles to Monty Python to Benny Hill to Pride and Prejudice to Eddie Izzard to Downton Abbey. This is only a portion of what they do, also staging British plays and panto in Kensington, Maryland (natchrully Kensington!), and raising money for charities. You don't need to be someone who has purchased several pairs of underpants inscribed "Lie Back and Think of England" to enjoy this show, but I have to say it helps.

See it if: You really wanted to see the Cheerful Charlies perform; you get that reference; now that you've looked at the link you want to see the Cheerful Charlies perform; you can't get enough of silly things in Received Pronunciation.

Skip it if: This royal baby drama has made you a total Britophobe.

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