British Players’ charming ‘Old Time Music Hall’ feels like a family affair

To attend this costumes-encouraged show is to be welcomed into a tight-knit group’s 60-year tradition.

The British Players’ 60th Anniversary Old Time Music Hall: In With the Old and In With the New is less a performance for an outsider — whether to the music hall form or the British Players’ community — and more a family affair. To attend this costumes-encouraged show is to be welcomed into a tight-knit group’s 60-year tradition. This is the Old Time Music Hall’s 60th iteration, and it celebrates the music halls of eras past, including the pre-2001 performances that took place in the British Embassy.

The show cannot be “reviewed” in the traditional sense. The show seeks to be a celebration of individual community members, the legacy of the British Players, and the legacy of British music halls, with the former two fueling the way it approaches the latter. My central takeaway from this performance was that it was an honor to attend and cover an event with multiple In Memoriams and featured performers who have worked with this presenting company since the 1960s and continue to bring their love of this art form to patrons who might have been watching them since then. The sold-out house around me during the Saturday matinee I attended was packed with visiting seniors from multiple retirement homes who were having the time of their lives. When I am their age, I can’t wait to enjoy my own version of this show.

The Edwardians and the Bow Belles in ‘The 60th Anniversary Old Time Music Hall: In With the Old and In With the New.’ Photo by Kim Harmon Photography.

“Music hall” is a form of variety entertainment that was popular from the early Victorian era through World War I — roughly from the 1850s to 1918 — originating in British bars and inns or wherever there was alcohol and a place to dance a ditty. The variety of entertainment in question could include both G- and PG-rated fare as well as more bawdy material, depending on the venue. In line with this tradition, much of the British Players’ show features characters mourning unfortunate aspects of their sexual exploits in various ranges of explicitness. If you thought that because this show was a tribute to the art of supposedly more conservative times it would be more conservative in its content, think about what happens when artists exist in conservative societies. Moulin Rouge! is a better comparison for this show than Mary Poppins.

Under Charles Hoag’s overall and musical direction, the show is often genuinely charming. The emcee of the proceedings, Mr. Chairman, played by Robert Leembruggen, is a delightful actor whose adorable jokes, memorized poems, and crowd work show off his performance chops as well as sheer lovability. Richard Jacobson, who sings the solo number “I’m Shy” and plays an ensemble role in several others, including a Beatles medley, is a standout performer, with line fluency and impressive vocal ability contributing to his endearing, excellently delivered performances.

The Helen Hayes–nominated Albert Coia, who has been a member of the British Players since 1969, plays the Cheeky Chappie, a soloist character who appears three times to sing “Dickie,” which is about what you’d expect; “The Night That She Cried in My Beer,” about an alcoholic who can’t seem to get lucky in love; and “The Night I Appeared as Macbeth,” about an actor who can’t quite seem to stop inviting bricks and “vegetable matter” to be thrown his way on stage. I mentioned to another attendee at intermission that I wasn’t sure what horrible life scenario was going to be sung about next. Many of the songs could be summarized as “he left me, she left me, he left me for my mother.” But it’s to Mary Poppins-sounding music, so it’s fine.

TOP: Abigail Mitchell, Shannon Cron, Robert Leembruggen (Mr. Chairman), and Jamie Sinks; ABOVE: The Edwardians, featuring Abigail Mitchell, in ‘The 60th Anniversary Old Time Music Hall: In With the Old and In With the New.’ Photos by Kim Harmon Photography.

Choreographers TiaMonet Flores and Lisa Singleton have done a tremendous amount of work coordinating dances for so many performers, and Costume Designer Nicola Hoag and Props Designer Valerie Matthews also deserve ample applause for their enormous achievements in costuming that many people for so many unique bits as well. Accompanist Sue Mason McElroy has learned an encyclopedic number of songs of various speeds and styles, performed by a wide variety of actors, and deserves enormous kudos.

By sharing this celebration of their institution and beloved art form with the public, the British Players are inviting newcomers into their family, and I am grateful to them for entrusting their work with us. It is truly a fascinating cultural experience to attend this performance, learn about this community, and experience new traditions.

Running Time: Three hours with one 15-minute intermission.

The 60th Anniversary Old Time Music Hall: In With the Old and In With the New plays through June 22, 2024 (Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm and Saturday at 2:00 pm), presented by the British Players performing at Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell St, Kensington, MD. Purchase tickets ($36 for general admission, including drinks [water, soda, beer, and wine] and snacks) online or by email to [email protected].

COVID Safety: Masks are optional.

The 60th Anniversary Old Time Music Hall: In With the Old and In With the New
Directed and Music-Directed by Charles Hoag
Produced by Sara Cath
Choreographed by Tia-Monet Flores and Lisa Singleton

PERFORMERS
Mr. Chairman: Robert Leembruggen
Soloists: Albert Coia, Jordyn Nicole, Clare Palace, Nicola Willis-Jones
Bow Belles: Shannon Cron, Abigail Mitchell, Lauren Pacuit, Rachel Schlaff, Jamie Sinks
Edwardians: John Allnutt, Michelle Buteau, Matt Craun, Sue Edwards, Justine D’Souza, Charles Hoag, Kristen Humphrey, Amanda D. Jones, Richard Jacobson, Ellen Kaplan, Robert Teachout, Missi Tessier, Aubrey Tingler

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