BWW Interviews: Phoenix Productions' Mandy Feiler Talks Playing 'Eliza Doolittle'
Mandy Feiler graduated from The Boston Conservatory with a Master of Music in Opera after getting her Bachelor of Music in voice from Boston University. It is no wonder she would end up playing the quintessential Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY one day. She is currently testing her cockney at Phoenix Productions at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank from Sept 14-29. BWW talked to Mandy about taking on this challenging role.
So Eliza! A role that most sopranos long to play, I’d imagine.
Mandy Feiler: Yes! It came on my radar in high school. My parents even bought me the anniversary VHS box set with an original film strip and costume renderings. I was a little obsessed – took me a while to finally get here, but it was worth the wait!
Tell us a little about your theater background.
I have always loved the stage and would entertain my family singing Annie on the fireplace hearth when I was little – but I didn’t really discover musical theater and singing until I was in high school. I was a major “theater” geek. Then my voice teacher introduced me to opera and I decided that is what I wanted to study in college – so I did. But when I graduated with my Masters and started the opera audition process I found myself missing musical theater. So I eventually found my way back and have been going strong for the last 8 years in NJ playing a wide variety of roles like Marian in THE MUSIC MAN, Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Jo March in LITTLE WOMEN, the Beggar Woman in SWEENEY TOOD, Cinderella in INTO THE WOODS, Gloria Thorpe in DAMN YANKEES and Carla in NINE.
You’ve played some other classic roles, but your repertoire is impressive in the different character types you have played. That must be something most performers aspire to do.
I am very fortunate that I am a unique combination of ingénue and quirky character. Roles like “Maria” come fairly easy to me, but I absolutely love to let the quirk and comedy in me shine by playing roles like the Beggar Woman or Gloria Thorpe, and now Eliza – who is the perfect combination of both ingénue and quirky character, which is what I do best. I am also always so impressed with actors who could disappear into roles. It is a compliment to me if I walk out after a show and not have people recognize me.
And rumor has it theater is where you met your husband as well.
Yes, we were both doing a production of THE FULL MONTY – and didn’t have very big parts so we had lots of time to talk and flirt backstage.
So how have you approached the iconic role of Eliza?
Iconic…no pressure right? This character is so well known and I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous about filling her shoes and giving the audience what they expect Eliza to be. However, I also didn’t want to copy the movie and deliver Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza…I wanted to deliver Mandy Feiler’s Eliza. She is such a complex character and there are a lot of nuances in her text that aren’t explained in the script. I didn’t want her to just be a character and an accent, I wanted her to be a real person – and I also didn’t want her to come across too harsh. There is a dirty-ness to her at the beginning but also an endearing cuteness to her as well, and we have to see both of those aspects of her carry through her transformation to a lady at the end.
Is this your first time at Phoenix Productions?
It is! However…this is what makes this story to interesting…I actually auditioned for them back in 1996 when they last did MY FAIR LADY and was cast! But I couldn’t take the role because I was living in Montvale, NJ at the time - home from college on a break so I didn’t have a car. So 16 years later I am back, and I landed the lead!
What has it been like working there and in that beautiful theater?
The Basie is an actor’s dream! We only were able to start rehearsing there the Monday of Tech week and that was the first time I ever set foot inside and I was blown away! I am so used to playing small houses, or theater in the round that when I saw the grandeur of the house, the orchestra pit, the sets, the fly rigs…it was unreal. And since I decided a little while back that I wasn’t going to pursue a professional career in theater any longer I am pretending this is my Broadway debut, because this is just as good as many venues you’d see on Broadway.
What do you think is Eliza’s strengths and where do you see her vulnerability as a character and/or as an actress?
Eliza is a tough, street smart, independent survivor which is certainly her strength, but also her weakness because she has never allowed herself to be vulnerable and has never had anyone treat her with respect or equality. Higgins is the first person to give that to her so she lets down her guard and gets hurt. But she needs to go through that hurt to truly become the lady she aspired to be.
And your leading man? Do you and Jim Neil as Henry Higgins work hard on that combative chemistry that the two must have?
Yes, Jim is an amazingly generous actor who truly lives in the moment on stage. I don’t think our scenes together have ever been exactly the same from one performance to the next, which is great and really breathes life into the show. We discussed our characters a lot and that really helped us not only figure out Higgins and Eliza’s relationship, but also helped us get to know each other off stage and got along off as well. You need that dynamic off stage to allow yourself to become vulnerable on stage.
What do you say to the young girls out there working in their opera or musical theater classes longing for the day they’ll be up on that stage?
It’s a lot of hard work – get trained, take classes, do anything you can to gain experience and do it all because you love it and cannot imagine yourself doing anything else. You may hit some bumps in the road and some disappointments but if you keep going and do it for you, and only you, it is worth all the struggles once you get up on that stage performing the role of your dreams.
Thanks so much for joining us today. Mandy. You can get all the information about MY FAIR LADY on the Phoenix Productions website and catch this wonderful classic show Sept 14-29.