Sunday, June 19, 2011
Theater Review and Talk Back Recap - My Fair Lady at NSMT
-- pictured above, Charles Shaughnessy (Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady) at the North Shore Musical Theater "talk back"
My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, Massachusetts
Directed by Charles Repole
Choreography by Michael Lichtefeld
How does a theatre company, today, breathe fresh and original life into an ultra-familiar story that has been a Broadway legend since 1956? North Shore Musical Theatre has helped us to answer that question with its recent production of My Fair Lady, Lerner & Loewe’s famous musical adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion. For those who are new to this classic, the story tells of a linguistics professor becomes obsessed with transforming a flower girl of the streets into a lady. The score is chockfull of memorable songs legendary to musical theater: Wouldn’t It Be Loverly, On The Street Where You Live, I Could Have Danced All Night and I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face...just to name a few. North Shore’s Production (which ran from June 7th to June 19th) starred television legend Charles Shaughnessy and rising star Lisa O’Hare.
Since NSMT is in the round, the traditional set design and choreography were dramatically altered mostly for the good. Scenic designer Howard C. Jones’ set evoked turn of the century London with a cut-out skyline silhouette surrounding the upper areas of the theatre along with transparent city street columns of wire. Along with tastefully minimalist furniture and props, it all puts us squarely into the intended atmosphere. However, an elevated platform on the stage was often used mid-scene, sometimes distractingly so; and the constantly visible microphones taped to the actors’ faces jarringly broke the illusion of the period.
Anyone who knows Charles Shaughnessy from The Nanny or Days of Our Lives recognizes him as the personification of British unflappability. Not surprisingly, he made the role of Professor Higgins entirely his own, relishing the fun of the challenge. In fighting the uphill battle of converting the ragtag street urchin, Eliza Doolittle, into a royal vision with perfect speech, he defiantly casts social conventions aside. At the same time, Shaughnessy perfectly embodies the obnoxious pride of a man unwilling to admit to himself that he is falling in love as he desperately tries to maintain the rapidly unraveling tranquility of his bachelorhood.
Lisa O’Hare was the perfect Eliza, from a spot-on comic delivery to a lovely singing voice. Never dominated by Higgins, she matches him both in witty repartee and restrained romantic pathos. Shaughnessy and O’Hare had sparkling chemistry onstage throughout. Miss O’Hare has been nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for her work on this role in Cameron Mackintosh’s national tour.
Under Charles Repole‘s direction, Eliza remains Higgins‘ match from beginning to end. SPOILER ALERT: In the famous final scene, when commanded by Higgins to fetch his slippers, rather than dutifully doing so, this Eliza saucily grins and hands Henry a chocolate instead, making it clear that he is not her lord and master even though she has returned to him. This lady is fair in more ways than one.
The production was bolstered by an excellent supporting cast: Peter Cormican (Colonel Pickering), Bill Dietrich (Alfred P. Doolittle), Hayden Tee (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Sarah deLima (Mrs. Higgins) and Cheryl McMahon (Mrs. Pearce). Bouquets all around!
After the June 18th matinee performance, there was a Q&A event with Charles Shaughnessy, Lisa O'Hare and Artistic Director Arianna Knapp among others.
Bringing MFL to Massachusetts: Arianna Knapp revealed that a few of the numbers, especially the "Ascot Gavotte" dance from the first act, were problematic. With only three weeks time, the company had initially rehearsed in a New York City studio; then later, they had to move the choreography from a typical dance room space to the round Massachusetts theater with the multiple entrances and exits.
Performing on the round stage: "We had to rehearse using the visual of a clock," Charles said. "It was the first time I'd ever worked on a round stage." Lisa O'Hare added that it was a freeing experience because there was no worry about upstaging other actors, similiar to working on a set with several cameras shooting from multiple angles.
Charles' take on performing Henry Higgins: Learning the book and the score was challenging. Charles had said that his experience having performed the role previously in Pittsburgh had helped a great deal. He adored working on the show as well as with the ensemble cast.
Why the traditional opening of Act II (ballroom scene) was cut: "Two reasons," Arianna answered. First, the consensus was that Henry Higgins' retelling about what occurred at the ball was actually stronger without the scene. Secondly, the running time for the show would have been three and a half hours with the original ball scene still remaining in the show.
Working with the elevated platform of the stage: Were the actors nervous about accidents? "Not after rehearsal," Charles answered. "But we were concerned that the audience might be nervous for us!"
Related OutTakes Blogtalkradio interviews of interest:
Charles Shaughnessy (Bus Stop 31 Productions and The Bay -- January 11, 2011)
Lissa Coffey (Host of CoffeyBuzz, produced by Bus Stop 31 Productions -- June 14, 2011)
Patsy Pease (Kimberly Brady, Days of Our Lives -- June 29, 2010)
Renee Taylor (Sylvia Fine, The Nanny -- April 29, 2011)