Obituary: Sandy Wilson / Composer of 'The Boy Friend' who made Julie Andrews a star

May 19, 1924 - Aug. 27, 2014

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Sandy Wilson, the author, composer and lyricist whose winsome, nostalgic and tuneful pastiche of 1920s musicals, “The Boy Friend,” made a stage star of Julie Andrews and later a movie star of the model Twiggy, died Wednsday in Taunton, England.

He was 90.

His agent, Nick Quinn, confirmed the death but did not disclose the cause.

“The Boy Friend,” first staged in 1953, was the grand slam of Mr. Wilson’s theatrical career.

It ran for more than five years in London and had a respectable run of 485 performances on Broadway with 19-year-old Ms. Andrews making her American debut in the lead.

The aggressively gossamer plot plays with the cliches of vacuous flapper-era musicals. A wealthy girl meets a messenger boy (really the son of a British lord) on the French Riviera in 1926, and they try to hide their vast fortunes from each other.

Songs such as “I Could Be Happy With You” ("I could be happy with you, if you could be happy with me"), “The Boy Friend” and “Won’t You Charleston With Me?” were jaunty throwbacks to the syncopated “vo-do-de-oh-do” of Roaring Twenties pop songsmithing.

In the New York Times, theater critic Brooks Atkinson called it “a delightful burlesque.”

But the play was predominately a showcase for the vocal range and comic expressiveness of Ms. Andrews, who balanced its charm and satirical impulse. (Her best-remembered stage role, as Eliza Doolittle in the musical “My Fair Lady,” was two years away.)

The success of “The Boy Friend” made Mr. Wilson the rage of theater circles in London and New York.

He was dubbed the next Bright Young Thing, and he won comparisons to his idol, the wasp-witted playwright and entertainer Noel Coward.

But as was pointed out by the theater critic Kenneth Tynan, a classmate from the University of Oxford in the 1940s, “it was plain even in the revues he wrote at Oxford that Wilson’s talent was not for the bold whiplash wit of the enfant terrible. . . . His personality, tidy and fastidious, was reflected in the restraint and delicacy of his work.”

None of Mr. Wilson’s later musical stage work equaled “The Boy Friend” in commercial or critical acclaim.

He would say that “The Boy Friend” always held a place in his heart because it gave him the economic means never to work again.

Its chaste lyrics and simple casting requirements made it a staple of high school and community theaters all over the English-speaking world.

His most ambitious endeavor was the madcap musical “Valmouth” (1958), adapted from British author Ronald Firbank’s novel about a black masseuse (played by Cleo Laine).

“Of necessity every song in ‘The Boy Friend’ was a pastiche of another song,” Mr. Wilson told the Observer, a British publication, in 1994. “ ‘Valmouth’ is me. It’s my favorite show.”

Alexander Galbraith Wilson was born May 19, 1924, in Sale, England.

He became entranced by movies and plays and fantasized about writing a smash hit for the stage in the vein of Mr. Coward or Ivor Novello.

england - london - Europe - Western Europe - United Kingdom - Adam Bernstein - Oxford - Julie Andrews - Noel Coward - Twiggy Lawson - Cleo Laine - Sandy Duncan


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