Much more than fair
Butte College pulls out all the stops for fall musical My Fair Lady
Although this musical has been done thousands of times, anyone who misses Butte College’s production of My Fair Lady at the Paradise Performing Arts Center because it’s familiar to them will be missing, with this production, a chance to see a truly fine work of art.
Everything about this show is wonderful. Director Barry Piccinino has pulled out all the stops, utilizing the wealth of talent in his able cast and crew to their fullest extent.
Piccinino gives due credit for the popularity of this award-winning Broadway musical to the story, which tells of a common street girl who is cynically taken in by British scholars in order to transform her into a lady, in an adaptation of the classic Greek myth of Pygmalion.
The musical and its songs, by Lerner and Lowe, are so well known that they present a real challenge to any production to sustain the energy needed to be effective. Fortunately, this production is fresh and vibrant, with energy and talent to spare.
Although there were many fine performances, this production is brought to a sublime level by the amazing talent behind the two lead roles: the exquisite Julia Dalton as Eliza Doolittle and the brilliant Evan Allen as Henry Higgins.
These two were born to play these roles. Dalton’s cockney brogue is pitch perfect, as is her dulcet, classically trained, well-phrased singing. Her Eliza is at times a blooming flower, lovely and exquisite in her every word and gesture, and then suddenly ablaze with frustration and anger at the patronizing and dismissive treatment she receives from the breezy Higgins. As she says to him, “All I want is a little kindness from you.” Higgins responds that he treats her as he does everyone: poorly.
When she crosses him, he goes so far as to declare, “You impudent hussy. There isn’t a word in your mouth or a thought in your head that I didn’t put there.” Although we witness her transformation at his hands, we feel for Eliza most when Higgins and his ally Pickering crow over their victory in making her over like a shop mannequin for their own amusement.
While Dalton performs the part of Eliza with passion and finesse, bringing the audience to a collective teary sigh with her tender rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night,” Allen is easily her equal, sharp-tongued and authoritarian one moment and reduced to quivering desperation by his young charge the next. When Eliza leaves him and threatens to marry Freddy, the nice boy next door (Kenny Kirkman), Higgins is beside himself and runs howling for his mummy.
Allen’s rich baritone and subtle nuance of emotion is especially fine in “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” when he is finally transformed by his feelings for Eliza and is awakened just as surely as she is to the possibilities in a life shared together, rather than apart.
Theirs is a visceral, intellectual courtship, and the actors handle the lines with such natural fluidity and grace that we believe them and hope and scheme with them every step of the way. The final scene between the two is charged with the chemistry of two intense, intelligent, opposing forces facing off in a very realistic depiction of the kind of compromise that must happen when strong-willed people fall in love.
Also worth a special mention are Gary Hibbs as the gentlemanly Colonel Pickering, Drenia Acosta at her motherly best as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ head of house, and the always-lovely Cheryl Turnbough as Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins. In fact, the whole cast, more than 30 people strong, is universally quite good, bringing this production to life in a memorable way. The opening-night audience knew it was in the presence of something special and gave the show a well-deserved standing ovation.
This memorable performance went on despite the fact that the production was beset by the tragic and untimely death of cast member and veteran actor Marc Shore midway through the rehearsal process. It is a tribute to the determination and hard work of everyone involved in the show that they are able to dedicate their excellent production to Shore’s memory.