Review: ‘My Fair Lady’ at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

The Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents My Fair Lady, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Director Patrick A’Hearn assembles a superb ensemble for this classic production, accompanied by an exceptional  live orchestra lead by Music Director Walter “Bobby” McCoy. Outstanding vocals, a compilation of timeless hit musical numbers, and lively choreography makes Riverside Center for the Performing Arts’ My Fair Lady one of the must-sees of the season!

Thomas Adrian Simpson (Professor Henry Higgins) and Quinn Vogt Welch (Eliza Doolittle). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star.

Thomas Adrian Simpson (Professor Henry Higgins) and Quinn Vogt-Welch (Eliza Doolittle). Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star.

Scenic Designer Adam Koch keeps the dual-leveled set simple and effective; large song-and-dance numbers are the real draw for this particular production, so the stage mustn’t be too complicated. This also allows for quick and efficient scene changes, which is  very welcome in a long-running show such as this one. Technically, all aspects are expertly handled, and I’ve grown to expect nothing less than that from Riverside Center. Lighting by Joe Thompson and sound by Bethany Galyen are both professional and proficient, but the real star of the show here is the live orchestra. Walter “Bobby” McCoy is steadily building a notable reputation for his tuned ear, and his fellow musicians did not drown out the actors vocals and dialogue–not even once– which is a common problem with live musical accompaniment.

Eliza Doolitle (the extremely talented Quinn Vogt-Welch) sells flowers on the streets of Edwardian London. She is a lower-class woman whose brash Cockney accent attracts the attention of phonetics professor Henry Higgins, exceptionally played by Thomas Adrian Simpson. Higgins makes a bet with his comrade Colonel Pickering (Robert Beard), insisting that after spending some time under his tutelage, Eliza could be transformed into the visage of a proper lady. Since Eliza would love nothing more than to finally be considered by picky London employers (and dreams of a better life in general with the song “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”), she agrees to the arrangement– although, with two personalities that clash so strongly, it may turn out to be too tall of an order.

Eliza and Henry’s tumultuous relationship is at the heart of this production; impatient, bombastic, and rude, Higgins admonishes Eliza’s poor diction and demeanor in the song “Why Can’t the English?” However, Eliza is no angel either– she has a stubborn and prideful streak which demands a respect that Higgins is unwilling to give, and vents her frustration in the number “Just You Wait.” After exhausting a variety of teaching methods, including filling Eliza’s mouth with marbles and having her enunciate onto an open flame, a breakthrough happens with the number “The Rain in Spain,” and they celebrate with the ecstatic song “I Could Have Danced All Night.” When the time finally comes for Eliza to be presented to the public, their efforts are put to the test. Could it be that Eliza has as much to teach Henry as he has to teach her?

Costume Coordination by Gaye Law and Jim Halliday shine at these social gatherings; high-society women wear elaborately detailed hats at the Ascot races, then later, glittery ball gowns at the ballroom of the embassy. They are a real sight to see! Shawna Walker-Hallinan’s thrilling choreography is perhaps my favorite part of the production. I loved the difference in the ensembles between the lower and upper-classes; in the crowd-favorite number “A Little Bit of Luck,” the dance moves are fast, boisterous, and even playful, while grace and poise reign supreme in “The Embassy Waltz.”

This production is extremely well-cast, which in itself speaks highly for Patrick A’Hearn’s direction. A’Hearn had cast the show impeccably and keeps it moving along with his inventive staging. Every performance adds to the joy of this musical theater gem.

Quinn Vogt-Welch and Thomas Adrian Simpson are simply sensational as Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. Not only are they exceptional singers, but they are terrific actors. Vogt-Welch’s gorgeous vocals on “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “Just You Wait,” and “Show Me,” and Simpson’s beautiful vocals  on “I’m an Ordinary Man,” “A Hymn to Him,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” was some of the best singing I have ever heard on the stage.

The lead roles, while superbly delivered, are supported by an exceptionally talented cast. Doug Schneider stole every scene he was in as Eliza’s deadbeat father, Alfred P. Doolittle (with a high-energy and scene-stealing “Get Me to the Church on Time”), and Carol Hagy had many memorable and witty one-liners as Mrs. Higgins.

The cast during 'Ascot Gavotte.' Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star.

The cast during ‘Ascot Gavotte.’ Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star.

Calvin Malone only has one solo as the love-struck Freddy Eynsford-Hill, but his powerful vocals in “On the Street Where You Live” made him an instant stand-out. Robert Beard does a fine job as Higgins’ foil and friend Colonel Pickering. Where Higgins is combative and cold with Eliza, Pickering is warm, patient, and welcoming. Together with Higgins’ put-upon maid Mrs. Pearce (a solid performance by Andrea Kahane), they help steady the storm that is Henry and Eliza’s relationship.

Celebrate the 60th anniversary of the beloved classic My Fair Lady with a showing at The Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. The inventive design, the vocal delights, and this dream cast bring Broadway-quality theatre within reach for the DC/Metropolitan area.

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts’ exceptional production of My Fair Lady has a dream cast, and is truly loverly!”

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

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My Fair Lady plays through May 8, 2016 at The Riverside Center for the Performing Arts – 95 Riverside Parkway, in Fredericksburg, VA. For reservations, call (540) 370-4300.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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