“Why Can’t the English Teach Their Children How to Speak?” laments phonetics professor Henry Higgins upon hearing a cacophonous Cockney accent from a poor flower girl on a rainy night in London. The professor’s question is never answered, but theatre lovers will recognize this as the opening scene from the glittering and sophisticated musical comedy, My Fair Lady. With book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, this adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is a delightful love story set against a backdrop of class distinctions in Edwardian England. Damascus Theatre Company’s glorious production of this iconic Broadway musical captures all the laughter and tears and wit and wisdom of the original hit show.
The story continues as Professor Higgins boasts to his phonetics colleague, Colonel Pickering, that he can teach this “deliciously low and horribly dirty” flower girl for six months and pass her off as a duchess at the Embassy Ball. The girl herself, Eliza Doolittle, muses with her working class friends about what it would be like to live a comfortable, upscale lifestyle as they sing “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” Eliza has always wanted to be a lady in flower shop and decides to take a few lessons from the professor. However, when she arrives at Higgins’ grand residence, she learns that she is to live there and participate in a six-month experiment. Higgins’ housekeeper teams up with Pickering to induce the professor to be reasonable, but Higgins sees nothing wrong with his plan and bullies Eliza into agreeing.
Meanwhile, Alfred P. Doolittle (Eliza’s father), doesn’t see his daughter for months at a time and only then when he can get money from her. Doolittle is drunk most of the time and desperately wants to avoid marrying his live-in girlfriend. To celebrate his success at escaping what he calls “middle class morality,” he regales his friends by singing “With a Little Bit of Luck.” Doolittle hears about Eliza’s situation and visits Professor Higgins to demand five pounds in exchange for his daughter. Higgins is so impressed with Doolittle’s lyrical speech patterns and his iconoclastic views on morality, that he recommends Doolittle as a guest speaker to an American moralist.
Professor Higgins is played by the ultra-talented Brian Lyons-Burke who exudes the perfect level of arrogance and smug self-satisfaction of the confirmed bachelor as he sings “I’m an Ordinary Man” who never wants to let a woman in his life.
Cara Bachman brilliantly portrays Eliza Doolittle as she evolves from an intimidated flower girl to a mature young woman who is determined to succeed. Bachman lends her transcendent operatic voice to a thrilling rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” when Eliza finally learns to speak properly and also learns she has feelings for her teacher as they celebrate together.
An extraordinary performance is given by William T. Fleming as Alfred P. Doolittle. His singing voice, his dancing talent, his mastery of the Cockney accent, and his grasp of Doolittle’s hedonistic view of the world combine to provide the audience with wonderful entertainment.
In the somewhat small but very important role of Mrs. Higgins (Henry’s mother), B.J. Bergman Angstadt gives a bravura performance. She uses just the right amount of haughty, prim, and proper class-consciousness to portray a mother who loves her son, but who is not blind to his faults.When she is kind to Eliza and even takes her side against Henry, Mrs. Higgins is clearly doing it for Henry’s own good. Although this is largely a non-singing part, Angstadt “hits all the right notes”!
Under the leadership of Director Stephanie Bonte-Lebair and Musical Director Ruth Bright, the singing is glorious and the entire cast is absolutely perfect in their gestures and facial expressions when they are not speaking or singing. In particular, David E. Elvove as Colonel Pickering does an excellent job of pantomime.
When fate finally thrusts middle class morality onto Eliza’s father, his friends give him a bachelor party during the last few hours before his wedding. Stephanie Miller’s marvelous choreography provides a stunning performance of “Get Me to the Church on Time” by Doolittle, the Can-Can Girls, the Quartet, and other members of the ensemble. The Can-Can Girls’ dancing is very funny and just a little bit risqué and the acrobatic dancing shows amazing talent. The number ends with a very drunk Doolittle being carried on his friends’ shoulders up the center aisle of the theatre.
Damascus Theatre Company’s My Fair Lady is a thoroughly enjoyable theatre experience. After all, what could be better than a charming love story with beautiful music, clever lyrics, fabulous dance numbers, and a satiric study of human emotions? In short, this My Fair Lady is simply loverly!
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.
My Fair Lady plays through November 23, 2014 at Damascus Theatre Company performing at Olney Theatre Company’s Historic Stage — 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. For tickets, purchase at the door or online.
Meet the Cast of ‘My Fair Lady’ at Damascus Theatre Company–Part 1: Brian Lyons-Burke.
Meet the Cast of ‘My Fair Lady’ at Damascus Theatre Company–Part 2: Director Stephanie Bonte-Lebair.
Meet the Cast of ‘My Fair Lady’ at Damascus Theatre Company–Part 3: Cara Bachman.
Meet the Cast of ‘My Fair Lady’ at Damascus Theatre Company–Part 4: William T. Fleming.