Henry Higgins is kind of a jerk. He’s egotistical and misogynistic, and looks down on those whom he considers being below him in both social class and standing.
When the phonetic expert meets cute with a lowly flower girl with a strong Cockney accent named Eliza Doolittle, it’s not long before she’s living in his posh London home in an attempt to better herself by learning how to speak like a proper English lady.
While she’d be happy to be able to talk “more genteel” so she can get a job as an assistant in a flower shop, Higgins has bigger plans. Within six months, he claims he can pass her off as a lady of high standing at a soiree dubbed the Embassy Ball.
While these plot machinations of My Fair Lady may be familiar to many, it’s a testament to the universally told tale that the play continues to captivate in the many decades since Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison took on the starring roles on Broadway—followed by an even bigger film version with Audrey Hepburn taking over the role of Eliza.
What some people may not know is that, except for one song, “Just You Wait,” Hepburn—who was chosen because she had much bigger star power than Andrews at the time—didn’t even sing the songs that brought the movie worldwide acclaim and helped garner the film eight Academy Awards.
The same can’t be said for the lead in Mount Baker Theatre’s version of the classic musical. Last Sunday night, at the MBT Rep’s first dress rehearsal with the full orchestra, Eliza (Ashley Coates) showed, in spades, why she was chosen to carry on the mantle of a woman whose life is transformed due to stupendously gargantuan changes in her speech, dress and persona. Higgins, played with masterful sincerity by Jeff Parker, is also worth his weight in shillings.
Although it was the first time the large cast had run through the play with the assistance of live musicians, that fact wouldn’t have been clear if we hadn’t been told before viewing that that was the case.
Other than a gaffe in the orchestra pit during one song that delayed the action for a few brief seconds, the mostly unseen musicians stuck to the program and made the famous songs—“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “The Rain In Spain,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “I’m An Ordinary Man,” “I Could’ve Danced All Night,” and others—shine.
While the energy could’ve been revved up a bit in certain places (mostly the group scenes that have a lot of various actors on stage), I’m sure when there’s an audience there to laugh, gasp and sing along under their breath, everything will go swimmingly.
What was especially amazing while watching the play unfold was knowing that director Mark Kuntz and crew pulled off the gargantuan undertaking with less than a dozen days of rehearsal.
Even if all cast members showed up with their lines memorized and their singing voices tuned up, that’s not a huge amount of time to pull off a production of this scale—in fact, it’s far less time than Eliza had to go from a girl with “wretched clothes and a dirty face” into a proper lady who’s eventually mistaken for royalty.
But, as almost everyone knows by now, the story of Eliza and Henry is one that ends well. And so, too, does the tale of the MBT Rep’s version of My Fair Lady. Starting Wednesday night, you can find out for yourself.
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