'The Boy Friend' composer Sandy Wilson dies at 90

Sandy Wilson, the British composer and lyricist best Sandy Wilson, the British composer and lyricist best known for his musical "The Boy Friend," responds during an interview in New York, July 21, 2005. Photo Credit: AP / RICHARD DREW

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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 Aug. 27 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 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 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," "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 predominantly a showcase for the vocal range and comic expressiveness of 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.)

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The success of "The Boy Friend" made 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.

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 Coward or Ivor Novello.

He won a scholarship to an elite preparatory school and, after army service as a clerk in World War II, received a degree in English literature from Oriel College at Oxford.

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Wilson wrote a sequel of sorts to "The Boy Friend" called "Divorce Me, Darling!" (1965), aging the original show's character types by a decade and lampooning Cole Porter and Noel Coward musicals of the 1930s. Flappers became maritally faithless sophisticates. Reviews were scathing. Survivors include his partner, Chak Yui.

Wilson, whose acclaimed 1975 biography was called "I Could Be Happy," projected in interviews undeniable gloom about the course of his life.

Achieving fame and riches at 30, he said the rest of his career seemed like a long denouement.

He could be biting about other plays and shows, particularly musicals. Popular music lost its appeal, as far as he was concerned, after the Porters and Cowards stopped writing it.

"I've hated it since 1950," he told the Observer in 1994. "Since rock and roll, I've turned a deaf ear."

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