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`It Girl' offers delightful romp at Off-Broadstreet

Friday, October 14, 2005

By TED OTTEN

Thanks to the 1927 silent film "It," actress Clara Bow became an international screen goddess and the symbol of Roaring '20s youth.

But just what is it? Elinor Glyn, a 1920s feminist author, coined the term as a synonym for sex appeal, for sex was not a word used in polite society.

Michael Small, B.T. McNicholl and Paul McKibbins created "The It Girl," a 2001 off-Broadway musical spoof of the film's rags-to-riches plot. What was good romantic melodrama, considered rather daring 80 years ago because of its vivacious, free-spirited leading lady, became a fast, funny, melodious send-up of 1920s music - including ragtime, the fox trot and the charleston - and stage conventions of early musical comedy.


 

 

 

 

That production, directed by and starring lyricist McNicholl, had an original cast recording that has sold the show to dozens of college and community theaters nationwide. Its local premiere will open tonight for a seven-weekend run at the Off-Broadstreet Theatre in Hopewell Borough.

Director Bob Thick has cast Heather Diaforli-Day as Betty Lou Spence, a lingerie clerk at Waltham's, the world's largest department store, who has set her sights on Jonathan, the boss' only son. Will this sassy Brooklyn lass land her wealthy catch and move up the social ladder?

In a real 1920s musical, as well as this 21st-century parody of it, the answer should be obvious - even if Betty Lou has to out-maneuver a vamp named Adela, who uses her own social climbing mother and a meddling, suspicious neighbor as her dubious allies.

Diaforli-Day, a music teacher, calls her character "a no-nonsense girl" and the show "a delightful romp."

"I'm sure older people will understand those period references and jokes that had to be explained to us youngsters, but I'll bet everyone will be swept up into the happy, danceable tunes of the '20s," she says.

Timothy Walton, a longtime friend of Diaforli-Day who also is a local music teacher, was cast as Monty Montgomery, the kind of character who used to be known as "the juvenile" in shows of the '20s. Monty is Jonathan's wisecracking best friend. It's his idea to stage an "it girl" contest to help bolster the store's sagging business. Guess who wins?

"Monty gets to lead the company in the title song and it's great fun for the whole company to do all those vivacious dances," says Walton. "He also gets some snappy lines and inadvertently creates a crisis in the big romance. He may be a spoiled rich kid, but his heart's in the right place."

Walton also pointed out that modern lyrics are more intelligent and more part of storytelling than the lyrics in most 1920s musicals, which had considerable simple-minded repetition to help the audience remember the tunes and go out singing them.

"Here, the lyrics really help explain just who our characters are," he says.

"The It Girl" will run through Nov. 26 at Off-Broadstreet Theatre, 5 S. Greenwood Ave., Hopewell Borough, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays with dessert served one hour before curtain, $23.75-$25.25. (609) 466-2766.

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2005 The Times. Used with permission.