BWW Reviews: A Satisfying MY FAIR LADY at Porthouse Theatre
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)
Last year's Porthouse production of "South Pacific" joined the beautiful and gifted Kayce Cummings (Green) as Nellie Forbush with suave and talented Greg Violand as Emile DeBecque, with Terri Kent, the theatre's artistic director. The result was "an evening of fine entertainment." This year the trio joined forces for a pleasing "My Fair Lady."
Kent knows her Porthouse audience well, and as with "South Pacific," "My Fair Lady" is definitely their kind of show. She directs for audience enjoyment, creating a show filled with joy, sprinkled with pathos. She succeeds well.
"My Fair Lady" has been termed "the perfect musical" and appears on most lists of the ten greatest musicals. It combines a nicely developed story line, based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," with meaningful lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and a memorable score by Frederick Loewe.
The story centers on Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, who is brought from her life as a poor uneducated waif to being a "lady" through the training of phoneticist Henry Higgins.
The tale contains many of Shaw's causes: the poor educational system of the British, the class structure, the superficiality of the upper classes and the negative way in which women are perceived.
The musical score includes such classics as: "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Why Can't The English," "The Rain in Spain," "You Did It," and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." As in any well conceived musicals, they all move the plot along and/or etch a character's personality and intentions.
The Porthouse production generally works well. Kent and company take some curves off the usual course. The music is played by two pianos, rather than the traditional large orchestra. For most of the score, which are small ballads, Jonathan Swoboda and Melissa Fiucci's fine musicianship worked well. In fact, it enhanced the intimacy of such songs as "Wouldn't It Be Loverly: and "On the Street Where you Live." However, "Get Me to the Church on Time" and "With a Little Bit of Luck," could have used the oomph provided by the missing louder orchestra instruments.
Though the set was very attractive, with some fine artistic touches, Porthouse's small stage was even more confined due to the stage design. Large wagons, which carried the settings onto the stage, often made for some awkward levels, causing dancers and actors to straddle different stage level surfaces. This also seemed to restrict the choreography.
S. Q. Campbell's costumes were well designed and era correct. Especially beautiful were Eliza's dresses and the black and white women's gowns and hats in the "Ascot Gavotte."
The cast was excellent. Cummings nicely transitioned from the dirt-smudged flower girl to the lady-like Eliza. Her accent changes were distinct and consistent. Her "Rain in Spain" brought spontaneous applause from the audience.
Greg Violand, who has a big voice, nicely pulled in his volume to develop the talk-sing pattern developed by the late Rex Harrison, who created the role. His ability to listen and react, rather than forcibly act, worked extremely well. His was a fine, fine performance.
Lissy Gulick, who plays "cute old lady" so well, again pulled off her character development as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins' housekeeper. Geoff Stephenson made for a compassionate Colonel Pickering. Elliott Litherland did a nice job 0f creating the love-struck Freddy. His "On the Street Where You Lived" was well sung.
Though he was quite acceptable, Rohn Thomas could have been a little more out of control as the drunken moralist, Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father.
Daniel Lindenberger, Dylan Ratell, Connor Simpson and Christopher Tuck had nice blending as the Quartet which joined Eliza in "Wouldn't It Be Loverly."
I'm not sure why Kent decided to play the role of Mrs. Higgins in drag. That device is so overdone that it has lost it's kitchiness.
The duo of Cummings and Violand deserves another reprise. How about casting them in such a show as "Man of LaMancha," or "Evita"?
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Under the directing awareness of Terri Kent, and the outstanding performances by Kayce Cummings and Greg Violand, the Porthouse production of "My Fair Lady,"was a fine evening of summer entertainment.
"My Fair Lady" ran from June 12-28, 2014 at Porthouse Theatre, on the grounds of Blossom Music Center.
NEXT UP AT PORTHOUSE: "Starmites," which runs from July 3-19, followed by "Oliver," July 24-August 10. Curtain time is 8 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays. The picnic grounds at Blossom open 90 minutes prior to curtain time. For tickets http://www.porthousetheatre.com or 330-929-4416 or 330-672-3884