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Southern Florida by Kevin Johnson


My Fair Lady

We are living in a time when facelifts and renovations are very popular for people who either need or want changes in life. Shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Trading Spaces” and documentaries such as “I Want A Famous Face” and “Pimp My Ride” go beyond being flavors of the month. So it is only fitting that the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s inaugural production is a revival of My Fair Lady, the musical that is a precursor to extreme makeovers.

My Fair Lady

Based on George Bernard Shaw’s classic play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady takes place in 1912 London where a dialectician named Henry Higgins (Neal Benari) has a brief encounter with flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Amanda Watkins). Higgins bets his couterpart Professor Pickering (Russell Leib) that he can change any commoner into a person of high society within six months by altering their speech and manners. While being from the wrong side of the tracks and having to deal with a crooked father, Eliza desperately wants to be a “lady working in a flower shop.” Pickering chooses Eliza as Higgins’ student, and the professor reluctantly agrees.

Tutor and pupil battle through communication, attitudes, and mutual dislike to find a common goal. Higgins doesn’t appreciate Eliza’s lack of class and style, while Eliza is put off by Higgins’ chauvinistic perceptions. It takes fatigue and a gesture of kindness to reach a breakthrough wherein Eliza changes into a proper lady.

Higgins and Pickering take Eliza out to social gatherings to test her new found speech. At the racetrack, she attracts socialite Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Alan Souza). She even impresses a former student of Higgins' while enchanting the Queen of Transylvania. The men are happy with their success while Eliza feels cheated out of her future by being used as nothing more than an experiment. After having words with Higgins, he and Eliza build a more mutual attraction that changes the course of their relationship.

My Fair Lady's libretto by Alan Jay Lerner is more than just a story of an ugly duckling turning into a swan. Values and social classes clash and people grow fond of each other as they spend time together. Lerner's selections like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I’m an Ordinary Man,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” are timeless and romantic. Henry Palkes’ musical direction has Frederick Loewe’s compositions contained by two pianos, so a full blown orchestra is not needed; neither is a large ensemble.

A cast of 10 (five principals, five chorus) is substituted for a company of 30. Linda Stephens is the only actor in a dual role, as Higgins’ head housekeeper and his mother. Director Susan Booth’s decision to have actors play an average of six or seven roles is not only cost effective but productive as well. Pace flows nicely when there is room on stage. Booth is artistic director of Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre Company, one of the three other co-producers of this presentation.

Neal Benari gives off good radiance as Professor Higgins. His portrayal of a staunch disciplinarian exudes toughness while showing a more sensitive side when there’s no choice. Russell Leib is a great sideman as Pickering, nodding his approval when necessary and giving fatherly encouragement to Eliza when needed. Alan Souza’s Freddy is a wide-eyed innocent to Eliza’s chaotic world. His amusement is childlike, but his voice is beautiful in his solo, “On the Street Where You Live.” As Eliza, Amanda Watkins’ range goes from comedic gem to beautiful dreamer. Comparing her to Julie Andrews may be a stretch, but Watkins’ execution of songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” makes her someone to be reckoned with.

The only weak link in this cast is Peter Van Wagner as Eliza’s deadbeat dad, Alfred. Wagner doesn’t seem to get the timing on “With a Little Bit of Luck,” nor does he even try to sing “Get Me to the Church on Time.” With a mixture of talk and tune, Wagner’s performance is dull when he is supposed to be the spark of comedic relief.

Michael Philippi’s set design is impressive, keeping drapes as backdrops and scenery coming in and out of scaffolding. More stunning is the wardrobe provided by Linda Roethke, especially during the track scenes. Dawn Chiang’s lighting needs improvement, especially when showing players on high scaffolding where seeing them is difficult at best.

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre knows something about improvements. Operated in the late 1970s by Burt Reynolds as a dinner theatre, the establishment changed ownership a few times until dissolving in the late '90s, leaving the site abandoned for a few years. Under the new stewardship of Todd Alan Price, the citizens of Jupiter banded together to revitalize the building. Now, two years and $10 million later, phase one is complete with a 550-seat house for patrons to enjoy. With some assistance from three other theatre companies, this Lerner-Loewe collaboration gives MJT a chance to redeem itself through the next phase.

By popular demand, My Fair Lady will play until April 4th at 1001 E. Indiantown Road in Jupiter. For reservations, please call (561) 575-2223 or www.jupitertheatre.org.

MALTZ JUPITER THEATRE - My Fair Lady
(Co-produced by Cincinnati Playhouse, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
and the Alliance Theatre Company, Atlanta)

Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe

Directed by Susan V. Booth

Production Stage Manager: Julie A. Richardson*
Assistant Stage Manager: Wendy Ehart*

Musical Direction: Henry Palkes
Choreography: Daniel Pelzig

Set Design: Michael Philipi
Costume Design: Linda Roethke
Lighting Design: Dawn Chiang
Sound Design: Clay Benning

Featuring Amanda Watkins*, Neal Benari*, Russel Leib*, Peter Van Wagner*, Linda Stephens*, and Alan Souza*

Ensemble: Becky Barta*, A.J. Irvin*, Howard Kaye*, and Brandon O’Dell

*-denotes Actors' Equity Association


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- Kevin Johnson



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