The It Girl," the musical now playing at Hopewell’s Off-Broadstreet Theater, is adapted from Paramount’s 1927 silent movie "It," with Clara Bow playing the leading lady, Betty Lou Spence, a lingerie salesgirl. The movie catapulted Bow into prominence as the screen’s first sex symbol and caused Bow, the steamy, sexy beauty, to be dubbed "The It Girl." (The musical is not Bow’s personal story as the title might imply. Her own story was far rockier.)
What is "It" anyway? The actors tell you. "It" means having it all – beauty, irresistible sex appeal, intelligence, charm. "Either you have it or you don’t. And when you’ve got it, you’ve got it all."
"The It Girl," which played successfully off-Broadway in 2001, is musical comedy lite. It won’t stir your emotions, but it is entertaining and fun. The fast-moving show – thanks to Robert Thick’s signature direction – moves quickly through a number of brief scenes in various locations. Thick also designed the set with its interchangeable tall rectangular pillars, their sides painted by artist Howard Siskowitz assisted by Kristin Hill. Julia Thick did the lively period choreography. Kenneth P. Howard, on the piano, is musical director of the four-piece band.
The book is by Michael Small and BT McNicholl. Paul McKibbins wrote the music and McNicholl did the often clever lyrics. There are seven actors in this show, four play one major role each and some also have a minor role. (Timothy Walton is particularly notable as the upper class snob Monty, his head raised, nose high, lips curled up; then he is a cavorting yellow-clad clown in the Coney Island scene.) Tom Orr plays five roles including Mr. Notting, the manager and majordomo of Walton’s Department Store; a sailor; reporter; barker; and cruise ship guest. Among others playing multiple roles is Laura Jackson Novia as the mean neighbor, Mrs. Sullivan, and Adela’s pushy, upper class mother. This is an energetic, vivacious cast. They act with their whole bodies, and show their feelings with mobile faces.
The show begins with Betty Lou Spence (Heather Diaforli-Day) switching on a nickelodeon. The machine projects scenes onto a wall evoking the 1920s, the time of Babe Ruth, flappers, and elegant, sophisticated women like Theta Bara. This was the jazz age, a time where wealth, as the lines inform later, is not earned but inherited. Diaforli-Day, with her pretty face and sleek bobbed black hair, bears a passing resemblance to Bow, minus the cupid’s-bow mouth. Betty Lou sings wistfully of this black-and-white world, so unlike her Brooklyn world. Promptly she is drawn into this ’20s world.
A working girl, Betty Lou is a lingerie sales clerk in Walton’s. She sets her sights on the starchy character, Jonathan Walton (Nicholas Muni), the junior Walton. Saucy, bold, scheming, and pushy, Betty Lou is undeterred by being told that Jonathan has a girl, Adela (Michelle Russell). To counter dwindling sales, Walton’s launches a sales promotion. Instead of giving doilies as a prize like last year, management decides to hold an "It Girl" contest.
Throughout the production the lines, spoken or sung, are clever and witty and often full of amusing innuendo. As another lingerie clerk and the supposedly rich socialite Adela (Michelle Russell), who is broke, fight over a corset (the previous bill is unpaid), Walton’s Mr. Notting steps in with a request to the clerk to see a record. He wants "your slip," which is in "your drawers." One outstanding set of lines comes when Adela’s mother tells her there "are two ways to get a man, the dishonest way." "And the other?" asks Adela. "How should I know?" her mother retorts.
Betty Lou stops at nothing to get her man, enticing Monty to take her to the Ritz where Jonathan will be, sneaking undercover (literally: she hides under another clerk’s cloak) into his office, and crashing a cruise as a French woman in a bathing suit. Two plot factors oppose her: Adela has her own plans to marry Jonathan, and a misplaced charge that Betty Lou has a fatherless baby. Betty Lou lives in a Brooklyn apartment with Molly (Angela Syko) who is coughing and too sick to work or to take care of the baby in her arms.
Monty has trailed Betty Lou to the apartment and is present when an irascible neighbor, annoyed by the baby’s crying, tries to have the baby taken away, saying the mother is too sick to work and so cannot care for the child. To keep the child with its mother, Betty Lou says the baby is hers. Monty will report this to Jonathan as Adela pays a reporter to write the false story.
Consequently Jonathan wants to set up an arrangement, without marriage, with Betty Lou. She is furious at this illicit arrangement, telling Jonathan, "You may be in retail, but I can’t be bought" and storms out.
The plot unwinds: Molly says she is not an unwed mother: her husband died of the flu. Betty Lou wins the "It Girl" contest at Walton’s and receives the prize money. Jonathan, after disguising himself as a bent-over newsboy, asks Betty Lou to stay with him, declaring that she is the "best thing that ever happened to me." As usual, love triumphs (although what "stepping into each other’s shoes" and getting another point of view has to do with love and capturing the desired man or woman escapes me).
Never mind: this musical, with its flamboyant performance by Diaforli-Day and the rest of an energetic cast, has It.
The It Girl, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Based on the Paramount picture "It" about a sassy department store salesclerk who wins an advertising contest. Through Saturday, November 26. $23.75 to $25.25. 609-466-2766.