Maybe it isn't quite the smoky, brew-imbued atmosphere of the old English music hall. But Tessie O'Shea-and all of it is herm as she tells the audience-is there on stage with her singing and dancing and stories for some robust, high-spirited fun in "Lady Lily," which runs through Jan. 7 at Ford's Theater.
Don't worry about the plot (it has to do with a former music-hall entertainer who has married a lord), for it's just an excuse to provide a showcase for the veteran performer's talents. O'Shea nurtured these in the music halls from the provinces to London and became a star whose theme song was "Two-Ton Tessie From Tennessee."
So O'Shea is the Lily (except for marrying into the peerage) of "Lady Lily." Lily's old partner, Harry Poppins, comes to lure her back for one stage appearance for a benefit for the old stage manager. It's been 20 years since Lily has felt the warmth of stage lights and the audience clapping. But her stage return may jeopardize her husband's appointment to a high government post.
This thin thread of a plot sews together a series of a vaudevillian turns with O'Shea joined by Richard Hayes, who plays her old trouper-friend with a winning gusto.
John Dorrin, who makes the stuffedshirt lord quite a likable chap, does fine in a duet with O'Shea, who can sing a ballad as well as do her music-hall routines.
There are one or two good numbers from Hank Beebe in the generally serviceable music. But nothing matches the rendition of an old original music-hall tune-"She was one of the Early Birds and I was One of the Worms."
O'Shea dances, sings, plays the banjo, winks, mugs, and storytells her way through the evening in the tradition of the music-halls. Her voluminous costumes should get top billing with her.
It all ends with a music-hall medley with Lily back on the stage and her husband throwing a rose on the stage as he did when he courted her two decades before. And not an eye in the house is dry, as Lily would say, as the audience joins in "Tipperary" after "Love's Old Sweet Song."
"Lady Lily" is light, good-natured entertainment for the holiday season. It is more a revue than a musical comedy, and has some slow patches. But O'Shea has captured the flavor of the old music hall.
Roger Alan Brown has some good fun with the lugubrious butler, and Rita Williams and Bill Clayton, who double as the maid and footman, do a hilarious spoof of two fighting vaudeville performers trying to upstage each other as they do their awkward turns as a hoofer and ballet dancer.