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Boy Meets Boy

With its blithe spirit and a plot no more preposterous than any dreamed up by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton for Jerome Kern's celebrated pre-1920s tuners, "Boy Meets Boy" is as disarming as it is charming.

Casey O'Brien - Stephen Ashfield
Guy Rose - Craig Fletcher
Clarence Cutler - Ben Kavanagh
Josephine La Rose - Anna Nicholas
Andrew - Johnjo Flynn

With its blithe spirit and a plot no more preposterous than any dreamed up by P.G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton for Jerome Kern’s celebrated pre-1920s tuners, “Boy Meets Boy” is as disarming as it is charming. As the title of this forgotten 1975 Off Broadway gem suggests, there’s subversion in the air, but almost everything about the show and Gene David Kirk’s almost ideally pocket-sized U.K. preem production has an admirable lightness of touch.

The standard-issue comic tale of love and longing in the 1930s supper-club set is given a lift by the sweetly audacious premise that, in some kind of parallel universe, homosexual marriages are as cheerfully run-of-the-mill and unworthy of comment as their heterosexual counterparts. Into this make-believe, white-tie-and-tails world steps roving American reporter Casey O’Brien (nicely swaggering Stephen Ashfield), possessor of an even more roving eye.

Casey is determined to net, in every sense, an English Rose. The naive and improbably rich Guy Rose (Craig Fletcher,) to be precise, who has caused a sensation with his last-minute jilting of his erstwhile boyfriend Clarence Cutler (Ben Kavanagh), a man whose favorite word (and witty song) is “Me.”

In the ensuing froth, all the genre staples are happily in place: from the pair of spectacles that lead to an entire mistaken identity plot to the dash to Paris — complete with nightclub nonsense — to escape life, mend broken hearts and then fall in love all over again.

If Bill Solly’s score only reveals an individual voice in a couple of unexpectedly touching love ballads, that’s no weakness since the job in hand is pastiching 1930s musicals, something he proves to be very good at doing. As a lyricist, he occasionally pushes his fondness for an enjoyably polished pun to the point of mis-stress, but that’s more than made up for by buoyant wit, not least in “Let’s,” Casey’s hymn to living: “Let’s not be rational, let’s be rash.”

Some of the actors take a couple of scenes to simmer down, but Kirk’s encouragement of Ashfield and Fletcher to let audiences in on the joke without being too knowing stops everything from becoming cloying. Indeed, all archness is expertly cornered by Ben Kavanagh, whose amusingly cunning Clarence sounds like Paul Lynde at his most venemous.

Kirk’s terrific ensemble wear megawatt grins while racing in and out of costume and character with infectious glee, nimbly knocking out Lee Proud’s choreography and layering harmonies under Stefan Bednarczyk’s tight musical direction.

A treasurable trifle that deserves further exposure, it’s a featherweight confection likely to buckle beneath the pressure of a big-budget production. But for small-scale delight, it’s hard to beat.

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Boy Meets Boy

Jermyn Street Theater, London; 70 seats; £20 $32 top

Production: A Jermyn Street Theater presentation of a musical in two acts, music and lyrics by Bill Solly, book by Solly and Donald Ward. Directed by Gene David Kirk. Choreography, Lee Proud. Musical dirction, Stefan Bednarczyk.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Alice Walkling; lighting and sound, Phil Hewitt; production stage manager, Lauren Ashling Baxter. Opened Nov. 27, 2012, reviewed Nov. 30. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Casey O'Brien - Stephen Ashfield
Guy Rose - Craig Fletcher
Clarence Cutler - Ben Kavanagh
Josephine La Rose - Anna Nicholas
Andrew - Johnjo FlynnWith: Benjamin Bailey, Carly Mackelvie, Nicola Martin, Gregory Sims, Biancha Szynal, Helen Turner, Jay Webb, Aron Wild.

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