Sandy Wilson, Composer of The Boy Friend, Dead at 90

Obituaries   Sandy Wilson, Composer of The Boy Friend, Dead at 90
 
Sandy Wilson, the British composer and lyricist who was best known for the nostalgic, '20s-style musical The Boy Friend, which was a monster hit in the 1950s and helped make a star out of Julie Andrews, died Aug. 27. He was 90.

Mr. Wilson wrote nearly a dozen musicals and revues, but none were as successful as The Boy Friend, a buoyant, lightweight piece of comic froth replete with flappers and Charleston numbers. What plot there was—basically of the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses girl variety—was meant as a gentle parody drawing on every imaginable cliche associated with the sort of all-singing, all-dancing, empty-headed musicals that were common in the 1920s. The plot took place on the French Rivera and centers on the romantic travails of lovelorn, "poor little rich girl" Polly Browne.

The show bowed in London at the Player's Theatre Club in April 1954 and reopened in an expanded version in October. Eventually it made its way to the West End, where it ran for a whopping 2,078 performances. The Boy Friend opened on Broadway in September 1954, with the unknown 19-year-old named Julie Andrews in the role of Polly. There, it was also a hit, playing 455 performances. Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times called it "a delightful burlesque" and a "light cartoon of the standard musical play of the Twenties."

A Broadway revival in 1970 was not as successful, closing after 111 performances. A 1971 movie version, with an altered plot, was directed by Ken Russell. Mr. Wilson disliked the film.

Following its initial success, The Boy Friend was a popular property in regional, community and high school theatres, owing to its innocent plotline and comparatively simple casting requirements. Andrews herself returned to the material, when she directed a production in 2003 at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, Long Island.

Mr. Wilson's other shows included Caprice, The Buccaneer, Valouth, Pieces of Eight, Divorce Me, Darling! (a sequel of sorts to The Boy Friend it was set in the 1930s, and was a pastiche of the kind of musicals Cole Porter wrote at the time), As Dorothy Parker Once Said, His Monkey Wife, The Clapham Wonder and Aladdin. He also wrote material for various revues, including Slings and Arrows, Oranges and Lemons and See You Later. Sandy Wilson was born May 19, 1924, in Sale, Greater Manchester. He went to school at Harrow School and Oxford (drama critic Kenneth Tynan was a fellow classmate), where he began to write revues. It was while at Oxford that he first hatched the idea of The Boy Friend.

Even when a young composer, Mr. Wilson cocked his ear in the direction of the past. Asked in 1994 if he liked any modern music, he replied, "I've hated it since 1950. Since rock 'n' roll I've turned a deaf ear."

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