American Stage's production of A Marvelous Party! The Noel Coward Celebration is sparkling entertainment for the holiday season: witty and spirited, a touch sentimental, a little old-fashioned and nicely naughty.
Coward (1899-1973) is perhaps best known for such plays and films as Private Lives and Brief Encounter. But the British polymath was also famed as a composer, lyricist and raconteur, and this revue spotlights those talents, with more than 30 of Coward's songs linked with anecdotes and aphorisms taken from his various writings.
The success of revues like this one depends upon the cast, and A Marvelous Party! benefits from the lively foursome who bring it to the stage. They and director Steven Flaa seem to have taken to heart one of the Coward lines in the play: "The kind of spontaneity I like best is the kind that comes with five weeks of rehearsal."
Local theatergoers will see one familiar face: Matthew McGee has appeared in many roles around the bay, including Dr. Frank N. Furter in the American Stage in the Park production of The Rocky Horror Show. He's an exuberant comic actor, and he does a splendid job with such Coward classics as Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster, the tale of an extremely merry widow, and There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner, a brisk satire of patriotic stiff-upper-lip tunes.
Lizzie Hagstedt is a standout as well, bouncing all over the stage when she isn't crimped into a tight spot under the set's staircase to play piano. Her hilarious big number strings together six songs as she plays an extremely excited young actor portraying all the roles in The Coconut Girl, the musical in whose chorus she's been cast.
Larry Alexander does a lovely job with everything from the longing ballad Matelot to the sublimely silly I've Been to a Marvelous Party, which he executes with increasingly tipsy body language. Melissa Bayern ranges from wiggly flirtation in Would You Like to Stick a Pin in My Balloon? to delicious rue in Mad About the Boy.
The group numbers shine as well, from the exasperated brio of (Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage) Mrs. Worthington to the tender a cappella harmony of the show's closing medley of The Party's Over and I'll See You Again.
Soignee costumes by Mike and Kathy Buck Designs and oversized art deco travel posters suggest a party in some indefinite, elegant past. The simple set by Greg Bierce includes an area for onstage seating at about 10 cafe tables. (On opening night, cast interaction with the audience at those tables was minimal.) Musical director Philip King at the grand piano and Irv Goldberg on upright bass provided able accompaniment, and King chimed in at times as part of the cast.