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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


My Fair Lady

Also see John's reviews of The Unseen and Working

My Fair Lady
Matthew William Chizever and
Diana Rose Becker

The Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs presents the musical My Fair Lady, featuring book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Adapted from the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, published in 1916, and the 1938 motion picture by Gabriel Pascal, it is the story of Henry Higgins, a wealthy Professor of Phonetics, who bets friend and fellow linguist Colonel Pickering that he can train anyone to speak so properly that they could pass as royalty. He chooses as his subject Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower seller with a strong cockney accent. He takes her in and begins her complete transformation. Along the way, Eliza's transformation inspires a transformation of his own in the cool heart of confirmed bachelor Henry Higgins.

The feel of this production is set near the beginning of the show as actors enter via the aisles as cockney townsfolk trying to earn a coin or two from the audience as they sell their wares and do assorted dance and gymnastic tricks. The use of the "Cockney Chorus" and the choreography in general are both assets to this show. This production is somewhat lacking in production value however. The set is missing detail, texture and richness, and the lighting is missing depth and warmth. The instrumental tracks are not up to the usual standards of this theatre company. They have flatness both in orchestration and recording quality. While most of the costuming is quite nice, Eliza's gown for the Embassy Ball looks like a reworked white wedding gown. Eliza's entrance in the gown should elicit a hushed gasp from the audience. This seems especially disappointing when the actress playing Eliza is as lovely as Diana Becker.

Matthew William Chizever is probably the best reason to see this production. The role is incredibly difficult, vocally, because of its half-sung/half-spoken songs, and song entrances and exits, rather specific to the non-singer who originated the role, Rex Harrison. Every actor in the role must battle capturing the essence personified by Harrison without imitating him. Chizever has it down to a science, and more importantly he makes it seem organic and genuine. This is no small achievement for anyone, but even more appreciated when it comes from an actor who can actually sing. He also manages to make Higgins a snob without being stuffy, and brings a slight sense of masculinity to the role.

At first glance, Chizever seems a bit young for the role of Professor Henry Higgins, but in truth he should be close enough to Eliza's age so that we see the possibility of romantic chemistry between he and Eliza. The chemistry between Chizever and Diana Rose Becker as Eliza is indeed fiery. Their disagreements are bigger and hotter than normally played on stage, but it works so well one wonders why it is not done this way more often. As the confirmed bachelor Henry Higgins has exclaimed "I shall never let a woman in my life!," it is logical he would not give in without a fight. It makes sense that Eliza destroys his cultured calm by causing him to lose his temper because he cares for her so unexpectedly. And, while Eliza may learn to speak and act in a demure manner, her temperament is still that of a headstrong and self-sufficient young woman.

Becker does a great job acting the part of Eliza prior to her transformation, and handles the accent well. She brings a fresh take to the role with a kind of sassy quality. Once "The Rain in Spain" hits, however, she never really grasps the proper British accent of the more refined Eliza. She has a good voice well suited to songs like "Just You Wait" but is lacking warmth of tone and a stronger sense of a legato line in songs such as "I Could Have Danced All Night." She has nice high notes but not enough control for them to sound connected to the rest of her voice.

Michael Douglass misses the mark as Alfred P. Doolittle in what is considered a potentially show-stealing role. He convincingly captures the quality of the scoundrel and lay-about, but is lacking any joy in his characterization. The audience should love this mischievous scamp for his zest for life. Douglass doesn't bring any of that to the stage even though the ensemble singing and staging is all in place around him. The production is helped by a solid ensemble, and supporting and cameo performances: Bob Levitt, who turns in a strong performance as Colonel Pickering; Regan Featherstone (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), who has a lovely voice in the song "On The Street Where You Live"; Christopher Michaels as the quirky Zoltan Karpathy; and Miki Edelman as the long-suffering Mrs. Higgins.

The original production of My Fair Lady opened on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on March 15, 1956, starring Julie Andrews. It ran for 2,717 performances, making it the longest running musical of its day, and received eight 1956 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. A London production opened in 1958 and, in 1964, the musical was made into a film starring Audrey Hepburn; the film received eight Academy Awards.

Lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner wrote scripts for radio, including such shows as "Your Hit Parade" until 1942 when he was introduced to a down-on-his-heels Austrian composer named Frederick Loewe. They quickly became one of Broadway's most successful partnerships, and together gave us the memorable musicals Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Paint Your Wagon, Gigi and Camelot. Loewe retired quietly to Palm Springs after winning two Tony Awards. Lerner went on to collaborate with Burton Lane on On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, with Kurt Weill on Love Life, and with Lane again on the movie musical Royal Wedding. Lerner also wrote the Oscar-winning original screenplay for An American in Paris. Lerner then went through a series of less successful musical collaborations such as Coco, Lolita, My Love, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Carmelina and Dance a Little Closer before retiring with three Tony Awards and three Academy Awards among his many honors.

My Fair Ladywill be appearing at The Stage Door Theatre through March 25, 2012. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs are open year round. For tickets and information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 954-344-7765 or online at www.stagedoortheatre.com.

Cast:
Eliza Doolittle: Diana Rose Becker
Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Regan Featherstone
Colonel Hugh Pickering: Bob Levitt
Professor Henry Higgins: Matthew William Chizever
Alfred P. Doolittle: Michael Douglass
Mrs. Pearce/Cockney: Gail Byer
Mrs. Higgins/Cockney: Miki Edelman
Mrs. Eynsford-Hill/Cockney: Margie Eisenberg
Zoltan Karpathy/Quartet/Selsey Man/Cockney: Christopher Michaels
Ensemble: Addie Tomlinson, Courtney Chilton, Vance Vlasek, Sally Bondi, Ryan Braun, Larry Buzzeo, Tim Osgood, Christian Teague, Laura Lacara, Elizabeth L. Worley, Victor Aponte.

Crew:
Director: Michael Leeds
Musical Direction: Donald Chan
Choreography: Dave Campbell
Lighting Design: Matt Taylor
Sound Design: Luis E. Marin
Costume Design: Harlequin Costume
Stage Manager: Nancy Clay


Photo: Tim Lentz


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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