Where’s Charley? is a giddy delight

by Glen Callender

Studio 58’s production of Where’s Charley? opened on World Theatre Day, that sacred time when the thoughts of all good people turn to those two Ancient Greek masks—one laughing, one crying—that symbolize the faces actors make when they read their reviews.

I have no idea where the crying mask was that night, but Where’s Charley? certainly wears the laughing mask with an aplomb that Aristophanes himself would have admired. Yes, I assure you that if Aristophanes were alive today, aside from being approximately 2455 years old, he would have guffawed heartily at the giddy musical spectacle of a pratfall-prone young man running about in a full-length Victorian dress, affecting a ludicrous British falsetto and hopelessly entangling himself in an-ever-more complex web of comic intrigue.

Benjamin Elliott stars as the titular Charley, a young Oxford man who is forced to impersonate his aunt—for the usual farcical reasons—and delivers a tour de force performance in a challenging quick-change role that requires him to continuously fall down, get back up, pull faces and wield his matronly hand-fan with the deftness of a comic cardsharp.

These cross-dressing antics are ably supported by a beaming, fresh-faced young cast whose obvious love of theatre makes this show impossible to dislike. The sets and costumes are bright and cheerful, the direction solid and the live music consistently on the mark. And the sly updates to this classic musical, such as the tasteful homoerotic innuendos among the ensemble, nicely bring the 1940s book forward into the 21st century.

All in all, Where’s Charley? is a top-notch student production and one of the best comedies of the season.

Now, this wouldn’t be a respectable review if I didn’t point out one or two niggling flaws, so it is with the most cursory nod to critical detachment that I note one or two of the slapstick sequences didn’t quite gel, and shaky spotlights were sometimes an unwelcome distraction.

And that’s all the token negativity towards Where’s Charlie? I can muster. If I must be negative, I’d rather direct my negativity toward you. Yes, you. Because the statistical probability is that you, dear reader, committed the grave sin of not going to the theatre on World Theatre Day.

And if so, Studio 58 will help you correct that dreadful karmic oversight, because Where’s Charley?’s iron grip on that laughing Greek mask will effectively extend World Theatre Day all the way out to the final curtain on April 18. Don’t miss it.

At Studio 58 (100 West 49th Avenue) until April 18. Tickets at TicketsTonight.com.

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