Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady opened on Broadway in 1956. Set in 1912 London, Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, who upon meeting phonetics expert and aficionado of the "science of speech" Professor Henry Higgins, wishes for a better life for herself that a more refined accent could deliver. The self-centered Higgins wagers a bet with his fellow linguistic professional Colonel Pickering that he can transform Eliza into a proper lady within six months just by teaching her the correct way to speak. The combination of Alan Jay Lerner's book, with its sophisticated sense of humor, the instantly loveable characters of Eliza and Higgins, and the glorious score by Frederick Loewe (music) and Lerner (lyrics) elevated My Fair Lady into a smash hit, winning six Tony Awards including the top honor of Best Musical.
The most important element of any successful production of this show is the relationship between Eliza and Higgins. SMTC has cast Valley favorite Terry Gadaire as Higgins and ASU senior Karylin Veres as Eliza and the two are just about perfect in bringing these beloved roles to life. Veres' effervescent portrayal includes a combination of effective acting choices that deliver appropriate, well thought out layers to show Eliza's aspirations, pain, joy, and love of life. Veres brings a fire to Eliza that works well to balance Gadaire's appropriate bully of a Higgins. Her lilting voice soars on Eliza's many songs.
Gadaire played this role two years back in an abridged concert version with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and his understanding of the part has only grown. He appropriately makes Higgins an assured, self-centered, and self-absorbed individual who often bullies the people around him to get his way. But Gadaire never allows his Higgins to cross the line into an over-the-top portrayal that is too harsh or mean. He shows us a man on a mission who doesn't realize until late in act two that Eliza is an actual person and not a puppet, a person he may actually care for. That scene, set in Higgin's mother's garden, is incredibly delivered by Gadaire and Veres. Gadaire instills Higgins with humor and wit that come across exceptionally in both his delivery of the show's famous dialogue as well as Lerner's exceptional lyrics. Gadaire and Veres are providing extremely strong performances and have an instant chemistry that makes the audience easily fall in love with them and root for their success.
The supporting cast is just as good. Peter Cunniff is an absolute riot as Eliza's father Alfred Doolittle. He portrays this lovable drunk of a man with a huge dose of charisma but also a touch of sweet sincerity. His songs "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time" are crowd pleasers. With an even-measured line delivery and ample dry wit, Bill Diekmann does well as Colonel Pickering, Higgins' right arm, the lovable straight man who, unlike Higgins, shows Eliza much compassion. Curtis Moeller instills the role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the man who becomes enamored with Eliza, with a keen sense of joy and passion and delivers a solid version of the show's big romantic ballad "On the Street Where You Live." In smaller parts, Nicole Bond and Patricia Parker are good as Higgins' housekeeper and his mother.
Director David Hock has done an exceptional job. Not only has he achieved an appropriate balance and harmony with his two leads, but he also gets fine portrayals from his hard working ensemble. Choreographer Hillary Conrad and music director Curtis Moeller are also to be commended for the varied and lively choreography and the rich, gorgeous harmonies the ensemble achieves. One of the best things about an SMTC production is their continued use of a large orchestra and under Kevin Hayward's baton the 22-piece band accomplish a superb sound. While the lavish two-story set and lush costumes are rentals, they are nicely balanced by Tylar Talkington's simple yet effective lighting design and crisp and clear sound design by Josh Hontz.
Hearing the show's classic Lerner and Loewe score, with such familiar songs as "I Could Have Danced All Night," "The Rain in Spain," and "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" performed by a gifted cast and a large, full orchestra is a joyous experience. When you add in the show's extremely well-written book, and have it all presented by a talented cast under assured direction, SMTC's production easily proves why My Fair Lady is a classic of musical theatre.
The Scottsdale Musical Theatre Company's production of My Fair Lady runs through August 21st, 2016, with performances at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway. You can get information and tickets by visiting www.scottsdalemusicaltheater.com. Tickets can also be ordered by calling 602-909-4215.
Directed and Musical Staging by David Hock