Rubicon Theatre Company's MY FAIR LADY Begins This Month
The director and designers behind Rubicon Theatre Company's acclaimed environmental productions ofFiddler on the Roof and Man of La Mancha have reunited on the two-piano chamber version of the legendary Lerner and Loewe's classic My Fair Lady. Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, the musical tells the story of Professor Henry Higgins, an arrogant and attractive phonetician who makes a wager that he can transform a "deliciously low" Cockney flower-seller (Eliza Doolittle) into an elegant lady by teaching her to speak more beautifully. The magnificent score includes "I Could Have Danced All Night," "On the Street Where You Live," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." For Rubicon's production, Director James O'Neil returns to the source material to explore the Shavian themes of class struggle, social reform and women's rights.
"As a regional theatre company, we are approaching My Fair Lady as a play with music," says O'Neil. "Our intent is to focus on the storytelling so that we may offer to our audiences a more intimate and immediate experience of the show than might be possible in a larger space," he continues.
"Given the nature of our venue and the close proximity of the audience to the stage, theatregoers will be able see every facial expression and, we hope, feel connected to the nuances of the story in a unique and special way. We are grateful to the licensing house Tams-Witmark for granting us permission to produce this version of the musical.
Low-priced previews for My Fair Lady begin next Wednesday, October 21 at 7 p.m. Opening night is Saturday October 24 at 7 p.m., and is followed by an after-party hosted by Seasons Catering with the artists and local dignitaries. My Fair Lady continues through November 15, with performances Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (except opening night), and Sundays at 2 p.m. Rubicon Theatre is located 1006 E. Main in Ventura's Downtown Cultural District, For tickets and information, call (805) 667-2900 or go to www.rubicontheatre.org.
Fiddler and Man of La Mancha Designers Reunited
For My Fair Lady, O'Neil has teamed up with Thomas S. Giamario (Set and Lighting Designer), T. Theresa Scarano (Set Dressing and Props),Marcy Froehlich (Costume Designer) and Jonathan Burke (Sound Designer), with whom he collaborated on Fiddler and La Mancha (also large-scale classic musicals re-envisioned for Rubicon's smaller space.) Other members of the My Fair Lady creative team include Musical Director Lloyd Cooper (Fiddler and My Antonia at Rubicon), Choreographer Carolanne Marano (this summer's West Side Story - also a featured dancer in the cast), Rod Menzies (Dialect Coach), and Tiffany Baker (Hair and Wig Design). Linda M. Tross is Production Stage Manager andJessie Vacchiano is Assistant Stage Manager. Chris Kimbler plays Second Keyboard.
17-Member Cast a Mix of Seasoned Veterans and Newcomers
The 17-member cast features Ovation and Indy Award-winner Joseph Fuqua as Henry Higgins, newcomer Kimberly Hessler as Eliza Doolittle, Rubicon veteran Rudolph Willrich as Colonel Pickering, Patrick DeSantis as Alfred P. Doolittle, and Will Sevedge as Freddy Eynsford-Hill.
Joseph Fuqua, an MFA graduate of Yale School of Drama currently living in Ventura. Fuqua was Rubicon's first company member and has appeared in more than 25 productions with Rubicon, including Hamlet, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, and, most recently, the World Premiere ofConviction by Carey Crim. Other stage credits include Brighton Beach Memoirs and 110 in the Shade (Lincoln Center) and regional work with Actors Theatre of Louisville, South Coast Rep and Dallas Theater Center. Film and TV credits include J.E.B. Stuart in "Gettysburg" (a role he reprised in "Gods and Generals"), "Ed's Next Move" and guest starring roles in "The X-Files," "The Profiler," "Brooklyn South," "The Pretender," "Chicago Hope," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Becker."
"This is a perfect role for Joseph," says O'Neil. "Like Higgins, Joseph has a great belief in the transformative power of words and a genuine passion for language. I think this comes through and makes his Henry Higgins intriguing and sympathetic (as well as irritating)."
Kimberly Hessler, who plays the title role, is a recent graduate of USC (where she majored in Vocal Arts and minored in Musical Theatre). She was a finalist for LA's Next Great Stage Star 2014. Recent credits include Pride and Prejudice (Mary Bennet), LES MISERABLES (Cosette) andSpelling Bee (Olive). Says Rubicon Producing Artistic Director Karyl Lynn Burns, "Kimberly is a new discovery for us. She is a vulnerable, versatile actress with one of the finest voices I have ever heard - a pure, true, effortless soprano that we know will thrill our audiences."
Returning Rubicon veteran Rudolph Willrich, a resident of Santa Barbara, has appeared in nine productions for the company, most recently inNoises Off and going back to the World Premiere of Murder in the First fifteen years ago. Willrich appeared on Broadway in Pirandello's Emperor Henry IV, Stoppard's Dirty Linen and Newfoundland, and Noises Off. TV and film appearances include "The Number 23," "The Practice," "Star Trek" ("Deep Space Nine," "The Next Generation" and "The Enterprise"), "What's Love Got to Do with It," "Steal Big Steal Little," "Home Improvement," and "Family Law."
Patrick DeSantis, who assays the role of Eliza's clever and conniving father Alfie, has played diverse roles at the Oregon, Colorado, Marin and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festivals, appeared in National Tours of plays and musicals, and worked with regional theatres such as Walnut Street in Philadelphia and The Matrix. TV credits include "Masters of Sex," "Castle," "The District," "Frasier," "Cheers," etc. He holds a B.A. in Drama/Music from UCSB and an M.F.A. in Theatre from UCSD.
Will Sevedge makes his second Rubicon appearance as the Freddy, who dotes on Eliza's every word. Sevedge originated the role of Junior in Cheri Steinkellner's Hello! My Baby at Rubicon. He is a graduate of The Hartt School of Music in Connecticut.
Jesse Graham, a Santa Paula resident still in high school, makes his professional mainstage debut as a member of the Cockney quartet. (He has appeared in multiple youth productions with Rubicon in leading roles.) Ventura resident Howard Leader also makes his Rubicon mainstage debut, having appeared on many Ventura County stages.
Christopher Carothers and Michael Stone Forrest, both of Sherman Oaks, appear in the Cockney quartet and as Harry and Jamie, respectively, in the production. Carothers toured in the Broadway productions of LES MISERABLES, Grease, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jesus Christ Superstar. Forrest is a transplant from the DC area, where he was a part of Capitol Steps and a six-time Helen Hayes nominee for multiple roles at The Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, The Ford's Theatre and Signature Theatre (winning for the title role in Sweeney Todd). Susan Denaker, also a resident of Sherman Oaks, plays Mrs. Higgins. She has appeared in leading roles in numerous shows in London's West End, and at South Coast Rep, San Diego Rep and the Mark Taper Forum. Linda Kerns of Van Nuys plays Mrs. Pearce. Her Broadway and National Tour credits includeNine (Original Broadway Cast), Big River, LES MISERABLES, Beauty and the Beast (L.A.), Wicked (L.A.), and Smoke on the Mountain (Original Off-Broadway cast). Other members of the talented group include Jahmaul Bakare, Amber Petty, and Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal of Los Angeles;Lila Bassior of Glendale and Jenaha McLearn of Rancho Cucamonga.
About the Authors
Bookwriter and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, and composer Frederick Loewe are widely thought of as two of the most stylish and sophisticated writers in the history of musical theatre. Lerner was born in New York in 1918 and educated at Harvard, where he wrote for The Hasty Pudding, an annual and original musical revue that launches the writing careers of a number of notables. He wrote more than 500 radio scripts in the 1930s, and was the scriptwriter for the film version of "An American in Paris." Frederick (Fritz) Loewe was born in Berlin to theatrical parents. He came to the U.S. in 1924 with his father and gradually worked his way into musical theatre. Lerner and Loewe were introduced in 1942 at the Lamb's Club in New York, and had their first hit together, Brigadoon, in 1947, winning the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical. Together they wrote some of the most popular and best-remembered musicals of the '40s,'50s, and '60s, including Paint Your Wagon, Camelot, the film of "Gigi," and My Fair Lady. Their creations were a melding of Lerner's witty, literate lyrics, and Loewe's lush, melodic music, redolent of Viennese waltz.
History of the Production
My Fair Lady has been described as "the perfect musical," although, ironically, there had been several prior unsuccessful attempts to adapt George Bernard Shaw's play (including an effort by Rodgers and Hammerstein) before Lerner and Loewe found a way to solve the plays' challenges. The issue was that Pygmalion simply didn't fit the traditional musical theatre form of the day: the main story was not a love story, there was no subplot or secondary love story, and there was no place for an ensemble.
The original impetus to create My Fair Lady came from film producer Gabriel Pascal, who acquired the rights to produce film versions of several of George Bernard Shaw's plays in the 1930s, one of which was Pygmalion. However, Shaw refused permission for the play to be adapted into a musical.
When Shaw died in 1950, Pascal approached lyricist Alan Jay Lerner to write the musical adaptation.
Lerner agreed, and he and partner Frederick Lowe began work on the adaptation.
During this time, the collaborators separated, and Gabriel Pascal died. Lerner read Pascal's obituary and began thinking about the project again. When he and Loewe reunited, everything fell into place. The insurmountable obstacles disappeared when the team realized that the play needed few changes apart from "adding action that took place between the acts of the play" (Lerner). They began writing the show, but Chase Manhattan Bank was in charge of Pascal's estate, and the musical rights to Pygmalion were sought both by Lerner & Loewe and by MGM, whose executives called Lerner to discourage him from challenging the studio. Loewe said, "We will write the show without the rights, and when the time comes to decide who is to get them, we will be so far ahead of everyone else that they will be forced to give them to us."
For five months, they wrote, hired designers and made casting decisions. In the end, the bank granted them the rights.
The title My Fair Lady related to both one of Shaw's provisional titles to the play ("Fair Eliza") and to the final line of every verse of the nursery rhyme "London Bridge is Falling Down." And, of course, Covent Garden, the early setting in the play, is located in Mayfair.
Noël Coward was first approached to play Henry Higgins, but turned it down suggesting the producers cast Rex Harrison instead. After much deliberation, Harrison agreed to accept the part. Mary Martin was an early choice for the role of Eliza Doolittle but she also declined the role. Young actress Julie Andrews was "discovered" and cast as Eliza after the show's creative team went to see her Broadway debut in The Boy Friend. Moss Hart agreed to direct after hearing only two songs.
The original Broadway Production had its pre-Broadway tryout at New Haven's Shubert Theatre. On opening Night, Rex Harrison, who was unaccustomed to singing in front of a live orchestra, "announced that under no circumstances would he go on that night...with those thirty-two interlopers in the pit". ("He would have liked this two-piano version," jokes O'Neil.)
Harrison locked himself in his dressing room and came out little more than an hour before curtain time. The whole company had been dismissed, but quickly recalled, and opening night was a success.
My Fair Lady played for 2,717 performances on Broadway and was the longest-running musical of its time. The original production won six Tony Awards. The London West End premiere (also starring Harrison and Andrews) played for 2,281 at the Drury Lane Theatre. The show was revived on Broadway in 1976 and again in 1993.
More about the Director
Director JAMES O'NEIL is the author and director of Lonesome Traveler, A Journey Down the Rivers and Streams of American Folk, whichreceived both Drama Desk and Outer Critic's Circle Award nominations. Lonesome Traveler premiered at Rubicon in 2011 and begins a National Tour in the fall of 2016 (lonesometravelermusical.com). O'Neil's other Rubicon directing credits include Man of La Mancha, Fiddler on the Roof (Independent Award), Jesus Christ Superstar, A Delicate Balance, The Diary of Anne Frank (Independent Award), The Night of the Iguana, A Streetcar Named Desire (Independent Award), Driving Miss Daisy (NAACP Award), All My Sons (Ovation Award), Sylvia and Gem of the Ocean. Under Jim's artistic leadership, Rubicon accepted the 2012 Drama Desk Award for the Off-Broadway run of The Best is Yet to Come: The Music of Cy Coleman, written and directed by David Zippel. Other directing credits include The Lion in Winter, The Petrified Forest,Inherit the Wind and regional premieres of A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking and Drood! Later this season, Jim will play his own fourth cousin Clarence Darrow in the one-person play about the great trial lawyer by David W. Rintels.
Sponsors and Community Partners
My Fair Lady is sponsored by Janet and Mark L. Goldenson and Barbara Meister. The co-sponsor for the show is Hilford Moving and Storage, and the community sponsor is Rasmussen & Associates. Ms. Hessler's appearance is underwritten through the generosity of Bonnie and Don Carlton and Mr. Fuqua's performance has been underwritten by Dr. Norma Beck. In addition to the above, sponsors for the 2015-2016 Season are Diane and Peter Goldenring, Janet and Mark L. Goldenson, Sandra and Jordan Laby and Anne and Michael Towbes.
Schedule, Special Performances and Ticket Info
Low-priced previews of My Fair Lady begin on Wednesday, October 21 at 7 p.m., continuing Thursday, October 22 at 8 p.m. and Friday, October 23 at 8 p.m. The Opening Night is Saturday, October 24 at 7 p.m. Regular performances are Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (except opening) and Sundays at 2 p.m. Talkbacks with the actors are scheduled after Wednesday 7 p.m. performances on October 28, November 4 and 11.
Tickets for My Fair Lady range from $35 to $64 (opening night is $95 and includes the post-show reception). Tickets for students are $30, and student rush tickets are available for $15. Discounts of 10% to 30% are available for groups of 10 or more. Tickets for My Fair Lady may be purchased in person through the Rubicon Theatre Company Box Office at the corner of Main and Laurel in Ventura (Laurel entrance and downstairs) or online at www.rubicontheatre.org. To charge by phone, call 805.667.2900.