Prior to seeing the show, it would be easy to confuse Boy Meets Boy at the Jermyn Street Theatre for something it’s not. The musical, with a central plot about a gay romance in the 1930s, isn’t about prejudice, discrimination, or the uphill battle for equality that gay men and women have been fighting for the last century. Instead, Bill Solly and Donald Ward’s Boy Meets Boy provides us with an escape from a society in which equality for same-sex couples still seems elusive. The delightful musical comedy intentionally ignores the politics surrounding homosexuality and delivers a sweet, lovable and original story.
The light-hearted tone of the show is established early in the opening number as the ensemble gleefully narrates exactly what to expect from the night: a story of ‘Boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy in the end’. Shortly after, we meet Casey O’Brien (Stephen Ashfield), a journalist whose career is on the line after two days of non-stop partying led him to miss the breaking news of King Edward’s abdication of the throne. In desperate need of a new story, he finds himself at the high-profile wedding between American millionaire Clarence Cutler (Ben Kavanagh) and British aristocrat Guy Rose (Craig Fletcher). When Rose doesn’t show up to the wedding, Casey goes in search of the mysteriously absent aristocrat. His passion for finding Guy Rose goes beyond journalistic curiosity and develops into infatuation when he is (mis)led to believe that Rose is an extremely handsome and lust-worthy man.
Enter the real Guy Rose: a mousy, bespectacled, insecure young fellow who is more accustomed to feeling invisible than being the object of lust. He is so far below O’Brien’s expectations that he is forced to pretend to be one of Guy’s friends, willing to help Casey by introducing him to the “real” man he is pursuing. The confusion creates a love triangle between Casey and Guy’s two identities, and their love story takes many unfortunate turns before they finally reach the same page.
There are terrific performances from the leading men and supporting cast, and spot-on direction by Gene David Kirk. Ben Kavanagh stands out as the obnoxious Clarence Cutler, whining and conniving, with brilliant comedic timing. Stephen Ashfield’s crystal-clear tenor voice is perfectly suited for Casey’s role, performing some of the musical’s most challenging numbers with ease. The musical’s score is also a treat, with catchy music and lyrics by Bill Solly that are wonderfully reminiscent of the golden age of musical theatre. The set, designed by Alice Walkling, is simple, functional, and makes good use of the small space as it subtly transforms between different scenes.
When Boy Meets Boy was originally created and produced in 1970s New York, the gay rights movement was making significant strides as the country saw widespread decriminalisation of homosexuality. Since then, society has continued to shift in favour of equality—but we’re not there yet. There remains a stark contrast between the real world and the acceptance of same-sex couples seen in the fictional world of Boy Meets Boy. While the musical ignores the controversy, it is quietly political in its representation of a prejudice-free society. It serves as a reminder that there is still a long way to go before our world reflects the seemingly simple and idealistic notion that gay couples are just like any other, deserving of the same conventional love stories and happy endings.
For that reason, Boy Meets Boy is more than just your average crowd-pleaser. But regardless of the political message, the musical itself is a joyous, old-fashioned love story with a beautiful score, performed superbly by a talented cast. The Jermyn Street Theatre should be proud to showcase this wonderful musical, and the cast and production team deserve praise for making the show’s first UK production here such a brilliant success.
Boy Meets Boy plays at the Jermyn Street Theatre until 20 December 2012. For more information and tickets, see the Jermyn Street Theatre website.