It is surprising that this is the first professional production of Cy Coelman’s Little Me in nearly 30 years. This show is devastatingly catchy, witty and brilliant for its sheer entertainment value. Performed at Ye Old Rose and Crown Pub/ Theatre, Little Me is a tongue-in-cheek musical theatre satire. The plot spans the life of the poor and beautiful village girl Belle and her search for “wealth, culture and social position” to win the hand in marriage of her childhood sweetheart, the wealthy village prodigy Noble Eggelston.
The timeframe of Belle’s journey spans from her childhood to autumn years, taking us from her distinctly Tess of the D’Urbervilles-style countryside childhood, through the First World War and the sinking of the Titanic (oddly in non-chronological order!) and to her rise as a starlet in Hollywood’s roaring twenties. The beauty of the script and music lies in its ability to be parodied. Little Me’s book and music is a rags-to-riches cliche, and therefore it takes an extremely talented company to exploit its lack of emotional complexity and sustain itself as an ironic parody of musical theatre spectacle. As I was convulsing with laughter and left exhausted even by the interval; proof that the All Star Productions Company (directed by Brendan Matthew) has managed to achieve this.
Emma Odell is sweet as the protagonist Belle, but it is Daniel Cane who steals the show with his athletic multi-role-ing as Noble Eggleston, an old man, a Frenchman, a German, a Hungarian Prince and a sexually frustrated young soldier called Fred. Each of his character vignettes is as different and precise as the last. Cane’s natural charm, and comedic timing has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, begging for more. Although his costume changes are frenetic and sheer variety of guises seemingly exhausting, he has a calm but energetic composure every time he appears on stage. He is an exceptionally talented performer and deserves an off-West End award for such comedic brilliance.
Another excellent performance is from Katrina Dix, who sizzles in her gender-bending role as the lead female dancer and the mafia- style Hollywood producer Bernie Buchsbaum. It doesn’t matter that the set is ad hoc and occasionally falling apart, because the quick improvised on-stage repairs by the actors add to the show’s charm and aplomb. The designer, Stewart Charlesworth, has created several backdrops for a play that span decades and continents inexpensively and effectively. By hanging a collection of blank portrait frames in the place of a backcloth, the audience are transported to wherever Belle travels as appropriately themed photographs or drawings can be slotted into the frames. It looks great and makes the space extremely flexible.
It is rare to see such good quality musical theatre on the London fringe, and Director Brendan Matthew has evidently worked the cast of Little Me extremely hard over the three-week rehearsal period, as this is a treat of a show. The small studio space means that you can really engage with each performer, unlike many West End musical theatre venues. My one criticism would be a desire for the Rose and Crown to invest in air conditioning, as the heat in the theatre became almost unbearable for the audience, let alone the actors. However, Little Me is certainly worth the sweat.
Little Me is running at Ye Old Rose and Crown Theatre until 31 August. For more information and tickets, please visit Ye Old Rose and Crown Theatre website.