Saturday, 8 August 2009

A loverly 'My Fair Lady'

[Just as Cape Rep’s production of My Fair Lady, directed by Kim Weild, is currently running to great acclaim in Brewster, Cape Cod, Budleigh Salterton theatre audiences have been enjoying Sweet Charity, the ex-Broadway show staged by members of London’s Imperial College Operatic Society http://www.union.ic.ac.uk/arts/opsoctour/home/index.php .

What better illustration could there be of those close cultural links between Britain and America’s East Coast which show us that the Atlantic Ocean is just a pond?

That’s in spite of the somewhat acerbic observation by George Bernard Shaw, creator of Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins, that “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”

“Cape Rep Theatre's production of My Fair Lady goes the extra mile,” was the verdict from Gwenn Friss, writing in the Cape Cod Times of 1 August 2009:

“Take the set changes: Each one is a little mimed play-within-a-play. In one, stagehands synchronize their movements in removing furniture; in another they are thieves stealing gracefully into the night.

Granted, set changes are mere logistics. But on a stage like this, which has no curtain, they are indeed a part of the play. Clumsy, overly long changes can ruin the flow, while creative, fun ones like these add a layer of rich, professional style.

That care extends to the rest of this show by director Kim Weild, who splits her time between Broadway and nonprofit theater. Pulling material from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, the play on which Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's musical My Fair Lady is based, and Gabriel Pascal's Pygmalion movie, Weild presents a more complex portrayal of language professor Henry Higgins.

Both the acting and the voices are wonderful, and there is laugh-out-loud comedy. The four-piece orchestra is a delight. The only flaw is that Act 2 drags a bit in a show that runs just over 2½ hours.

The plot chronicles how Higgins picks up cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle and bets his friend Colonel Pickering that he can pass her off as a duchess after six months of language lessons. What Higgins doesn't bargain on is Eliza giving him a lesson or two in being human.

In the lead roles of Eliza and Higgins, Actors' Equity Association performers Alison Weller and David Eiduks bring compelling voices and stagecraft. Veteran local actress Jean Bates is perfect as Higgins' housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. When he is blaming her for letting Eliza leave in Act 2, she doesn't have to say a word. One can read the disbelief, chagrin and disgust on her face and in her body language. It is pitch-perfect.

Andrew Cranin, as Colonel Pickering, does a great job of acting even when the script has him merely sitting in an armchair reading a newspaper as Higgins grills Eliza on vowels. You can see his objections to the harsh treatment in the agitated shake of his newspaper long before he says anything.

This rendition of My Fair Lady would be worth seeing if only for the chemistry among the four people in Higgins' house. But the extremely engaged acting continues with Eliza's father, Glenn Wall as Alfred P. Doolittle, playing a grand ne'er-do-well with the support of a chorus that doubles or even triples as servants, gentility and ruffians. As love-struck Freddy Eynsford Hill, Daniel Greenwood has a voice sweet enough to fall in love with. His comedic timing is perfect in 'Show Me' with Eliza. Barbara Rosser makes the most of her role as Higgins' long-suffering mother.

The play opens unexpectedly, with the house lights still on and the street ruffians coming into the audience to chat and beg money. One lady opened her wallet. This bit runs a little long, but it is a fittingly edgy opening for a production that offers much more than standard summer musical fare.”

Above, right: Photo by Bob Tucker. Alison Weller as Eliza Doolittle and David Eiduks as Henry Higgins. "Chocolates!"

Review A loverly My Fair Lady reproduced courtesy of Gwenn Friss and http://www.capecodonline.com/

My Fair Lady opened at the Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster on 30 July and runs until 29 August 2009. More information at http://www.caperep.org/

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