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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A "Loverly" Production of My Fair Lady

Also see Richard's review of Cats

My Fair Lady
Angelique Lucia and
John Hetzler

Diablo Light Opera Company is currently presenting Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's classic My Fair Lady, running through March 18 at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. This semi-professional company founded in 1959 by a small group of musical theater enthusiast has grown to present full scale musicals with large talented casts and a full orchestra plus lavish costumes and scenery. The current production has the same sets that Rex Harrison used in 1956 and they still look good.

My Fair Lady has been one of my favorite musicals ever since I first saw Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews and Stanley Holloway during the summer of 1956 on the boards at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York. I was fortunate enough to see the revival at the St. James Theatre in 1976 with Ian Richardson, Christine Andreas and George Rose, and later during the fall of 1981 with Rex Harrison reprising his role at the Uris with Nancy Ringham and Milo O'Shea, plus other productions here and in the United Kingdom. I was also part of Harry Stradling Sr.'s crew at Warner Brothers when the film version was made. I have many fond memories of that shoot with Audrey Hepburn in the role of Eliza Doolittle.

There was a time when "I Could Have Danced All Night" played constantly on the radio and at the studio and I felt I never wanted to hear the song again. I also had the same feeling about seeing the musical after the Warner Brothers film of 1964. However, it has been many years since I revisited the Lerner and Loewe classic, and this sparkling company is presenting a "loverly" full-scale production with the excellent John Hetzler as Professor Henry Higgins, Angelique Lucia as Eliza Doolittle, Mitchell Field as Alfred P. Doolittle, and a large cast of singers and dancers.

Director Dianna Shuster has reverted to the original 1956 blockbuster version, shying away from the 1993 revival that stripped away the romanticism and honed a confrontational post-Modern edge (it starred Richard Chamberlain and Melissa Errico). Choreography by Kate Leland is jubilant and spirited in the rowdy numbers of "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time." The Ascot scene with its monochromatic costumes is striking.

John Hetzler (a familiar face on the East Bay theatre scene for 20 years) makes 'enry 'iggins his own in this production. He gives the uptight phonetics professor a sterner edge and is delightfully gruff. Hetzler has great vocal chops in the opening scene of "Why Can't the English?" and the egotistic "A Hymn to Him" near the end of the production.

As Eliza, Angelique Lucia (a recent graduate from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music) has a captivating voice and gives a knockout performance, going from a young woman with a crude Cockney accent to a lady who could pass as a member of the English royal family. Her rendition of "I Could Have Danced All Night" made me forgot how much I had hated that song in my younger days. She is also charming in "Wouldn't It be Loverly."

Mitchell Field (Oklahoma! at Marin Mountain Play and numerous roles in the Marin Shakespeare Festival) who portrays Alfred P. Doolittle does not need to use a fake Cockney accent as he was born and raised in England. He gives a fine jaunty performance as the working class scoundrel father of Eliza with a raucous singing and dancing presentation in "With A Little Bit of Luck" and " Get Me to the Church on Time." Lee Strawn (created the role of John Muir in John Muir's Mountain Days) is the model of a modern major Colonel as Colonel Pickering. Brandon Mears (mostly performs in small theaters in San Jose and Marin) is effective as Freddy Eynsford-Hill but seems to straining on his high notes in "On the Street Where You Live." He is very good acting the role of the hopeful lover. Wanda McCaddon (Our Town at Berkeley Rep) is a properly stern but loveable Mrs. Higgins.

Director Dianna Shuster moves things at a brisk pace and seamlessly segues the scenes between the flat front detailed curtain to the more elaborate ones. The large twelve piece orchestra under the direction of Cheryl Yee Glass is excellent.

My Fair Lady runs through March 18th at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in the large Hoffman Theatre. For tickets please call 925-943-7469 or visit www.dlrca.org.


Photo: 2005 Diablo Light Opera Company


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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