BWW Review: MY FAIR LADY at EPAC
I would imagine that most reviews of My Fair Lady focus mostly on the metamorphosis of Eliza Doolittle from lowly flower-girl to upper-class woman of high society. Stacia Smith handles the change very well in EPAC's production. Her mannerisms, posture, speaking and singing voice all contribute to an effective and believable transformation. Kudos to Lisa Harris, Carolyn Tornielli, and Kate Willman for covering the gamut of costumes and hats that effectively complimented her "societal upgrade".
Ironically, what struck me most in this production was not Eliza's change, but rather Higgin's lack of it. Professor Henry Higgins (played skillfully by the talented Preston Schreffler) is a pompous jerk when the show opens and remains one until the curtain drops. I cringed several times not only at the degrading way that he speaks to Eliza, but also the physical abuse that he threatens her with if she fails to comply. These story elements seem out of place, if not problematic, in today's woke society.
Many popular musicals have lead male characters that are actually villains (e.g., The Producers, Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera). Yet in each of those examples, the audience is given enough backstory to explain a character's motives to lie, cheat, steal, and even kill. Henry Higgins comes across simply as a petty jerk who doesn't want to lose a bet.
Edward R. Fernandez is underused as Colonel Pickering, and Robert Chechia brings some welcomed comic relief as Eliza's trouble-making father. Sean Reynolds is a solid choice as Freddy, and Kathleen Goodwin commands the stage any time she appears as Mrs. Higgins.
The set design by Mike Rhoads was interesting, attractive, and served the theme of the story well. The twin staircases built upon a cobblestone floor served double duty as both the streets of London's East End, and Higgin's posh residence. Just like Eliza, the set is largely transformative. It can be whatever it wants to based on audience perception and expectations. Housing the orchestra onstage, within a set of ornamental windows was also a neat idea.
Choreography by Tricia Corcoran was simple but served the purpose of enhancing the story. After all, this isn't A Chorus Line.
Co-directors Edward R. Fernandez and Lydia Brubaker have crafted an enjoyable show that is true to the original, but is a little too much on the safe side. The look, sound, and dynamics of the show seem to be lacking that certain "EPAC signature" that audiences have come to expect. This production would feel equally at home at the Fulton, Hershey, Belmont, or many other Central Pennsylvania theater companies.
Lastly, this is a long show. The Friday night performance ran a tad over 3 hours. Eavesdropping at intermission, it was clear those seated around me felt the same way. I overheard similar comments recently while reviewing The Man Who Came to Dinner. Consider a consistent 7:30 pm curtain for shows of this length in the future.
My Fair Lady runs through December 21. Tickets and more information can be found at this website.