With a high-energy cast and retro rom-com storyline, The IT Girl takes us back to the future 1920’s style, in a madcap romantic farce that mostly succeeds on its own terms.
This first presentation by DramaNatrix Productions is the Canadian premiere of a show first seen on Broadway in 2001, written by Michael Small, B.T. McNicholl and composer Paul McKibbins. The IT Girl pays tribute to 1920’s film star Clara Bow, by reprising the plot of her famous film, “It“ – which cemented the term in popular culture to mean an elusive, attractive quality that only few possess. Almost a century later, we still know what “It” is when we see... it.
The production is sprinkled with nicely-executed touches that tip a straw hat to the era, from the pre-show black-and-white slides detailing each cast and crew member to a band decked out as grubby Depression-era street urchins behind a wall of newspaper bundles bearing headlines of Lindbergh’s famous flight. The set, props and costumes are all black, white or shades of grey, which gives the show an attractive and consistent look while evoking the world of pre-technicolor Hollywood.
The leads are extremely well-cast. Katie Purych embodies all the qualities of her “IT” girl character, shopgirl Betty Lou Spence: she radiates joyful, self-deprecating humour, confidence, and oodles of quirky charm.
As the male romantic lead, new department-store manager Jonathan Waltham, Jared Arthur brings an impressive array of talents, from his dimpled-chin and curly-locked good looks to a natural flair for comedy. When, in Act II, he shows off his instrumental chops as well (I’ll leave the specific instrument as a surprise), it’s a delightful surprise. I only wish he was also a golden-voiced crooner, but his overall appeal helps one overlook what, at least on opening night, was merely-serviceable singing.
And Dimitrios Stephanoy deserves mention for his fully-committed performance as Waltham’s second-in-command, nearly stealing the show single-handedly with his hilarious antics.
The script is packed with one-liners and double entendres that mostly hit their mark. Other than a handful of anachronisms (like “Because why?” and a joke about Lindy’s luggage being lost on his flight), it scrupulously sticks to its 1927 context as it packs in all the classic 20’s characters and situations, from snobby elites tangling with scrappy working folks, and even a sea cruise thrown in for good measure.
For me, fun though it was, the show felt like it could have been more - the broad, farcical style is fun but I wished it dug a little deeper. There were moments where some panto-style booing and hissing of the villainess would not have seemed out of order, but I would have welcomed a deeper level of characterization. Still, this show aims to be a loving tribute to the 20's and a freewheeling farce, and on that level it definitely succeeds.
My other quibble is with the songs, which - despite the vigor with which they are presented - I found less than memorable. The standout numbers are successful more for the personality, verve and humour of the performers, and their dynamic staging, than for their musical qualities alone.
Those standouts include “A Perfect Plan’, villainous vixen Adela Van Norman’s tale of all the men she failed to land via nefarious means. Other memorable moments include a Coney Island sequence that manages to evoke all the whirlwind of a night at that famous carnival - including the rollercoaster! - through some delightful costumes and pure movement.
None of the quibbles are intended to minimize what is still a highly entertaining show, and a feast for fans of the Flapper Age. It’s a lighthearted night of fun and definitely recommended.