It’s a gathering of music, humor, and tradition with The British Players in The New Old Time Music Hall Celebrating Queen and Country. The British Players have quite a storied history, performing at the Kensington Town Hall since 1964, with many of the performers being seasoned veterans. This is the Players’ 52nd show, commemorating Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday.
Directed by Charles Hoag and produced by Nicola Hoag and John O’Leary, the company celebrates what it means to be English through various songs and skits. The program will appeal to anyone looking for an entertaining time, and especially to anyone passionate about Britannia and Her Majesty.
The setting is a cabaret, with light refreshments and seating at tables. A band of bass, piano, and drums provides live music to accompany the British Players. Each act was introduced with sing-alongs that helped to engage the audience.
The set design by Charles Hoag and Albert Coia, also Players themselves, was simple but dignified, with pillars and a portrait of the Queen of England, and a screen that used scenic images as backgrounds. A very nice touch was the candles at the foot of the stage, contributing to the Victorian theme. The costumes by Nicola Hoag consisted primarily of suits and dresses, giving the impression that the Players were off to a ball. Some were more bright and colorful, with stripes, hats, feathers, and red cummerbunds, but they all kept consistent with the theme of each song.
The singing was the focus of the show, with most songs consisting of solo performances. One of the standout performances was “Don’t Have Any More, Mrs. Moore” by Ellen Kaplan, a humorous song exhorting a mother to be content with her twenty children; with Kaplan’s bubbly singing interspersed by hiccups, she was notably effective at conveying the Players’ spirit.
The number “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” demonstrates the impressive operatic range and vocal strength of Meghan Williams Elkins. Ed Vilande gives a believable performance singing in a drunken stupor with “Drinking to Forget,” while Kris Humphrey keeps things saucy with “Makin’ Whoopee.” The diversity in music is impressive—there’s something here for everyone.
There were also group numbers, with various songs and dances by the Edwardians and Bow Belles. Though much of the choreography plays it safe with kicklines and sidesteps, the tap dancing portions were quite well done. I particularly enjoyed the clean harmonies of the Men’s Barbershop Quartet, a nice throwback to an oft-forgotten singing style.
“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is a rollicking tribute to the 1940s, with the dancers dressed in soldier uniforms and singing in 40’s-era microphones. But the most touching group song was definitely the Scottish “Loch Lomond” at the beginning of the second act. With its uplifting harmonies and choral solemnity, its feel was unlike anything else that evening. Music Directors Charles Hoag and Joy Sharp are to be commended for the synchronized harmonies in this number.
Most of the performance consisted of song, but there were a few comedic skits thrown in for good measure. Particularly hilarious was Four Candles starring Danny Brogan and Albert Coia. Here, a British man with a strong regional accent is trying to purchase various wares from a shopkeeper who can’t quite make out what he’s saying. To make matters worse, the man asks for items with ambiguous meanings. Skits like these exemplify the lighthearted, farcical, and tongue-and-cheek nature that defines British comedy. The British Players embrace this humor with aplomb.
On the subject of silliness and laughter, my favorite addition to the British Players’ performance, and perhaps the most memorable, was “Mr. Chairman,” played by veteran British Player Malcolm Edwards. Edwards acts as MC of the show, inserting various bawdy jokes in between acts. Aside from jumping into some of the acts himself, he would even address audience members directly at times, keeping things fresh and unexpected. With Edwards and his sleeve full of quips and witticisms, expect plenty of side-splitting.
The performances are all heartfelt and earnest, and the performers work hard to make the audience feel at home.
Even if you aren’t British, come see The British Players tickle your ears and your funny bone, and a little bit of their culture is sure to rub off on you.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
The New Old Time Music Hall Celebrating Queen and Country plays through June 25, 2016 at The British Players performing at Kensington Town Hall —3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 447-9863, or purchase them online.