The musical was first performed in London in 1953. It opened at the Players' Theatre Club on April 14, 1953, and reopened in an expanded version on October 13. It transferred for a short season to the Embassy Theatre, Swiss Cottage and then opened at Wyndham's Theatre in the West End on January 14, 1954. The light, tuneful piece proved immensely popular with the British public and ran for more than five years, a total of 2,082 performances.
The principal role of Polly Browne was to have been played by Diana Maddox, who fell sick on the afternoon of the final dress rehearsal. Anne Rogers (at that point playing a minor role) volunteered to take over, having learnt the role on her own. The show opened the following evening and made an overnight star of Rogers, who stayed with the production through its expanded versions to the triumphant West End first night at Wyndham's.
In 1995, on its 40th anniversary, the musical returned to The Players' Theatre in London in a new production that was as near a reproduction of the original as possible. It was directed by Maria Charles, who had played the original Dulcie. The choreography was by Geoffrey Webb who was also in the original production. It was originally planned that the choreography would be done by Larry Drew, the original Bobby van Husen, but he died suddenly during the early planning stages of the production. Set design was by Disley Jones who was responsible for the hat designs in the original production. Among the cast were Gemma Page, Oliver Hickey, Sophie Louise Dann and John Rutland (in his original role as Lord Brockhurst). Following its success at the Players' it went on a nationwide tour and was very successful.
A production played in 2006 at the Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park, London. This also proved to be a highly acclaimed production, and was revived during the Open Air Theatre's 2007 season.
The Boy Friend is the chosen title for the Showtime Challenge 2011 at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, to be produced by Eyebrow Productions. Rehearsals take place over a 48 hour period immediately prior to the performance on Sunday 8 May, and all proceeds go to The Prince's Foundation for Children and The Arts.
The Boy Friend opened on Broadway at the Royale Theatre on September 30, 1954 and closed on November 26, 1955 after 485 performances. Starring was newcomer Julie Andrews in her Broadway debut as Polly, with a cast including John Hewer, Geoffrey Hibbert, Dilys Laye, Bob Scheerer, Stella Claire, Ann Wakefield, Millicent Martin and Moyna MacGill. Some of them had connections with The Players' Theatre in London, but only Wakefield had actually appeared in the show's London production (in the very first run at the Players'). For the Broadway opening, veteran orchestrator Ted Royal and jazzman Charles L. Cooke contributed period authenticity to the 1920 arrangements.
In her Broadway debut Andrews received the Theatre World Award. She was "discovered" by My Fair Lady producers during her appearance in this play, prompting her casting in the lead in that production, catapulting her to fame on Broadway (and beyond) in the following years.
A revival directed by Gus Schirmer opened on Broadway at the Ambassador Theatre on April 14, 1970, and ran for 111 performances. Starring were Judy Carne as Polly, Sandy Duncan as Maisie, Ronald Young as Tony, Jeanne Beauvais as Madame Dubonnet, Leon Shaw as Percival Browne, Simon McQueen as Dulcie, Harvey Evans as Bobby Van Husen, David Vaughn as Lord Brockhurst, Barbara Andres as Hortense, Marie Paxton as Lady Brockhurst, Lesley Secombe and Mary Zahn. Duncan received the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance as well as a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.