Monday, May 14, 2012

"My Fair Lady" at Bloomington Civic Theatre

Wouldn't it be loverly? Just you wait, 'Enry 'Iggins! The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. I could have danced all night! On the street where you live. Get me to the church on time! I've grown accustomed to her face.

I'd forgotten how many familiar and endlessly singable songs are in the classic Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady until I saw it again yesterday, at the Bloomington Civic Theatre. I've actually only seen it on stage once, well, not so much on stage as in a rehearsal room at the MN Opera Center in a beautifully sparse production by Ten Thousand Things. But that's not a fair comparison, because what Ten Thousand Things does is incomparable. The current production at BCT is the first fully staged production of this classic musical that I've seen, and they do a wonderful job with it - from the full pit orchestra conducted by Anita Ruth, to the delightful costumes and set, to the talented and spirited cast. Yes, it's a little long, with some songs going on and on, and then coming back for more, but it's thoroughly enjoyable.

I'm sure everyone's familiar with the story. And even if you think you aren't, you know it. It's been retold many times, from the original Shaw play Pygmalion, to the Julia Roberts movie Pretty Woman. A gentleman takes a lower class woman and transforms her into a "lady." In this case, the gentleman is Professor Henry Higgens, who studies phonetics and is intrigued by "flower girl" Eliza's poor accent, and makes a bet with his colleague Colonel Pickering that he can transform her into a lady in six months time. Eliza does indeed learn to be a "lady," but retains her spirit and even teaches 'Enry 'Iggens a bit about being a human being in the process.

A few highlights of the show:

  • Jim Pounds is everything you want Higgins to be - elegant, curmudgeonly, sophisticated, exasperated, stubborn, with a heart hiding somewhere deep inside.
  • Rachel Weber plays Eliza with such energy and spirit, she fairly leaps off the stage! At times proud and strong, at times weepy and needy, she's a real heroine with a lovely voice to match her spunk.
  • Michael Fischetti is also good as Colonel Pickering, with a wonderfully silly laugh.
  • Fred Mackaman provides the comic relief as Eliza's father in the songs "Get Me to the Church on Time" and "With a Little Bit of Luck."
  • Mary Kay Fortier-Spalding is a bit of a scene-stealer as the Professor's sophisticated mother who grows to love this young woman, who seems to be the only one who can teach her son a lesson or two.
  • Eric Heimsoth doesn't have much to do as Freddy, other than sing the most beautiful song in the show, "On the Street Where You Live," and he does it justice.
  • The scene at the races is a feast for the eyes. The women are decked out in elaborate period dresses in various patterns of black and white, the men in tails and top hats (costumes by Ed Gleeman), all holding themselves primly still until Eliza shouts out "move your bloomin' arse!" And watching Eliza put on her act while telling stories about her drunken aunt is hilarious.
  • This may be the most elaborate set I've seen at BCT, with the walls of Higgins' stately home rolling in and out (sets by Robin McIntyre).
  • The large and capable ensemble performs several group dance numbers, choreographed by Lewis E Whitlock III, who also directs.

Eliza Doolittle (Rachel Weber) sells flowers to
Professor Henry Higgins (Jim Pounds)

BCT's musical line-up for next season looks like another good one, featuring the tap-dancing extravaganza 42nd Street, a Sondheim show I've been dying to see - Sunday in the Park with George, one of my favorite musicals - Cabaret, and Leonard Bernstein's On the Town. I think that's going to be worth the drive across town.