Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

My Fair Lady
Hale Centre Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Dirty Dancing, Dreamgirls, Fools, The Boy Who Loved Monsters and the Girl Who Loved Peas, Conviction

Annalise Webb and James D. Gish
With such familiar songs as "I Could Have Danced All Night," "The Rain in Spain," and "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?," and an extremely well-written book, My Fair Lady is a classic of musical theatre. Hale Centre Theatre's production of this well-loved show has excellent leads, spirited direction, and stunningly gorgeous costumes, which means lovers of the show are in for a treat.

Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady is set in London in 1912. 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 can bring. The self-centered Higgins wagers a bet with his fellow linguistics professional Colonel Pickering that he can transform Eliza into a proper lady within six months just by teaching her the correct way to speak. In 1956, 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 elevated My Fair Lady into a smash hit, winning six Tony Awards including the top honor of Best Musical.

The success of any production of My Fair Lady rests on the relationship between Eliza and Higgins, and Hale has a winning twosome in Annalise Webb and Rob Stuart. Webb's stunningly beautiful voice sends Eliza's songs soaring, and her capable acting skills show the feisty, eager young girl who aspires for a better life. With a keen sense of humor, Rob Stuart makes an engaging Higgins, with just the right amount of charm under the surface of the instructor who uses a bit of bullying in his teaching style. They both also have a huge dose of wit in their performances which, combined with the other layers they achieve, makes the audience easily fall in love with them and root for their success.

The supporting cast is equally good. Peter Cunniff brings the appropriate combination of humor and care as Pickering, and Mark Kleinman is boisterous, sweet and sincere as Eliza's lively father. James D. Gish has a strong, clear voice and a clear sense of joy as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the man who becomes enamored with Eliza. His rendition of the show's only real romantic ballad, "On the Street Where You Live," is a knock out. Janis Webb and Christie Wright both have a great sense of compassion as Higgins' mother and his housekeeper, respectively. They have a perfect delivery of their lines, which when combined with their expressive facial reactions and a healthy dose of dry wit, receive big laughs. The hardworking ensemble plays multiple parts with ease, delivers some gorgeous harmonies, thanks to music director Lincoln Wright, and, since they double as the majority of the stage hands, they also help ensure the set changes happen briskly.

My Fair Lady is a dialogue heavy show, and director and choreographer Cambrian James, who is well known for his musical theatre directorial skills, has no problem in staging the dialogue scenes effectively with plenty of appropriate movement so they don't appear stiff or dull. He has also provided some energetic choreography for the numbers "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time," which Kleinman leads, as well as some effectively staged moments during "Poor Profession Higgins" that have the ensemble seamlessly flowing into Higgins' study and around the characters with grace and style.

An abundance of rich, exquisite costumes from Mary Atkinson feature some stunners for Eliza, including a gorgeous beaded dress that she wears to the ball, as well as lavish black and white detailed ensembles for Eliza and the entire cast in the Ascot race scene. And while Adam DeVaney's set design is far from elaborate, there is a rich assortment of numerous moving pieces of furniture that easily establish the few outdoor scenes, Higgins' study, and a second floor library.

Hale never ceases to amaze me with their ability to deliver highly professional productions of classic musicals and plays, and their My Fair Lady is no exception. While their "theatre in the round" stage does mean there are some limitations, mainly in the lack of any overly elaborate sets, their productions are always cast exceedingly well, the other design elements are always exceptional, and the direction and choreography are always inspired.

The Hale Centre Theatre production of My Fair Lady runs through April 4th, 2015, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (480) 497-1181.

Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Set Designer: Adam DeVaney
Costume Designer: Mary Atkinson
Lighting Designer: Jeff A. Davis
Wigs & Make-Up: Cambrian James
Stage Manager: Justin Peterson

Eliza Doolittle: Annalise Webb
Professor Henry Higgins: Rob Stuart
Colonel Hugh Pickering: Peter Cunniff
Alfred P. Doolittle: Mark Kleinman
Freddy Eynsford-Hill: James D. Gish
Mrs. Higgins: Janis Webb
Mrs. Pearce: Christie Wright
Jamie/Ensemble: Jonathan Holdsworth
Harry/Ensemble: Stephen Serna
Quartet/Ensemble: Jesse Thomas Foster, Nate Dutson, Vinny Chavez, Julian Pena
Mrs. Eynsford-Hill/ensemble: Kristin Mabb
George/Ensemble: Brian Anderson
Maids/Ensemble: Danica Donaldson, Heidi Liz-Johnson, Anissa Griego
Cecil/Ensemble: Cody Duke
Flower Girls/Ensemble:

Photo: Nick Woodward - Shaw /Hale Centre Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

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