Saturday, June 13, 2015

My Fair Lady

From left, William Parry as Colonel Pickering, Glory Crampton as Eliza Doolittle and Paul Schoeffler as Henry Higgins perform in “My Fair Lady,” produced by Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through June 14.
Charr Crail/Courtesy photo

Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” is the lead-off to another fun Music Circus season. (It will be followed by “Big River,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Peter Pan,” “West Side Story” and “Hair.”)

This production is directed by Glenn Casale, who also directed “My Fair Lady” at Music Circus in 2001.

Based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” this popular classic tells the story of Henry Higgins, a self-centered, overbearing linguist who claims to be able to take a flower girl from Covent Garden, give her lessons in grammar, elocution and etiquette, and in six months pass her off as a lady of refinement at an embassy ball (or make her qualified to be a lady in a flower shop, which is even more difficult).

Paul Schoeffler (reprising his role from 2001) is a strong and powerful Higgins, the Music Circus sound system sometimes at such a level that it was almost painful. Nonetheless, he turns in a masterful performance and is at his best, perhaps, in his final song, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” He first expresses his anger that Eliza has left him, and then realizes how much he has come to care for her and how much he will miss her.

Making her Music Circus debut, Glory Crampton, who played Eliza under Casale’s direction in Pittsburgh, has a gorgeous voice and is believable both as the raggedy flower girl and the elegant lady. Her “I Could Have Danced All Night” was a particular delight as she revels in the joy of finally having “got it” and celebrating with Higgins and his pal, Colonel Pickering.

Under Casale’s direction, Eliza’s first correct pronunciation of “The rain … in Spain … falls mainly … on the plain” is halting and unsure; she gains confidence the more she repeats the phrase correctly. Casale’s Eliza did this in 2001 as well and it reads more accurate than the smooth versions we see in other productions.

William Parry is Colonel Pickering, a fellow linguist who joins together with Higgins to pay for Eliza’s lessons and insist that she be treated with respect. It is because of Pickering, ever the gentleman, that Eliza learns how a lady should be treated, not just how she should behave.

Eliza’s father, the irrepressible Alfred P. Doolittle, is played deliciously by Stephen Berger. Doolittle, who attempts to sell his daughter to Higgins, later believes Higgins has ruined his life by mentioning him as one of the most noted spokesmen on middle-class morality of this country to an American billionaire, who leaves the dustman a sizable inheritance.

Doolittle has two outstanding numbers in the show, “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Both showcase choreographer Bob Richard’s work at its best.

The character of Freddy Eynsford Hill, played by Jason Forbach, has got to be one of the sappiest characters in musical theater history. All he has to do is hang around Higgins’ house and moon over Eliza, with whom he fell instantly in love when he met her at Ascot.

He sings “On the Street Where You Live” many times, fully and in segments. Fortunately, Forbach has a magnificent voice, but I’ve always felt kind of sorry for poor Freddy.

Shannon Stoeke plays Professor Zoltan Karpathy, a former student of Higgins who now uses his learned talents “more to blackmail and swindle than teach.” Higgins’ triumph is Karpathy’s report on this mysterious Miss Doolittle’s real background.

Toni Sawyer plays Mrs. Higgins, Henry’s mother, who takes a liking to Eliza and cheers her on when she finally has the gumption to stand up for herself.

Mary Jo Mecca is a steadfast and loyal housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce.

Marcy Froehlich is credited with costume design and the costumes are magnificent, particularly Eliza’s ball gown. But the real standout of the costumes are for the Ascot Races scene, perhaps the most famous scene in the play. The dresses are wonderful, the hats amazing.

But it is sad that the audience gets to really see only half of them, since the characters kind of mill around the stage while singing. How much better it would have been to make use of the Music Circus’s mechanical turntable — they have it, why not use it? — so that the costumes pass by all sections of the house, allowing all in the audience to fully appreciate each of them.

I also take issue with the fact that the characters freeze when watching the race, but nobody moves, no heads turn as the sound of hoofbeats pass by. You would think that each character is interested only in the split second that the horses pass where he or she is standing and not in the actual outcome of the race.

The finale of the show is very slightly different from the original, and a wonderful change in staging, which shows how much self-confidence Eliza has gained in the past six months. Bravo on a very slight but significant improvement.

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