BWW Interview: Leslie Alexander Says MY FAIR LADY at Wharton Center Combines a Classic Play with Stunning Music and Costumes
Even if you know nothing about the show itself, you've surely heard of the classic Broadway musical, My Fair Lady. From February 26th to March 1st only, the national tour of My Fair Lady makes its way to Wharton Center. This production opened on Broadway in April of 2018 and went on to win the Tony Award for Best Costume Design in a Musical.
BroadwayWorld Detroit recently had the pleasure of interviewing Leslie Alexander, who plays Mrs. Higgins in the national tour of My Fair Lady. Read our conversation below!
BWW Detroit: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your career?
Leslie Alexander: Sure. Let's see...I have been an actress for all of my adult life, and I have been in New York for 20 years, and before that I was in the Dallas-Fort Worth area working as an actress. Anyway, when I moved to New York in 2000, within a couple years I booked my first Broadway show. I was in the original cast of Mamma Mia. New York has been really good to me. I've done everything from theatre to commercials to industrials to TV and video games.
What was it like being the original Broadway cast of such a significant show?
It was really great. I was a standby for Karen Mason, and she had a gig on a Saturday so I went on on a Saturday and made my Broadway debut. I was in the company because another actress got injured outside of the show, and so she had to step away from the company for a couple of months, so they brought me in temporarily. It was thrilling, it was really thrilling.
I remember when I was taking my bow with my fellow actor - it was a friend of mine, Dean Nolen, he and I were actors in Dallas together - and he said, "Do you hear them? Do you hear them?" It really made me be present in the moment and accept the applause and wonderful experience that it was.
As far as My Fair Lady goes, how would you best summarize the story for someone who doesn't know much about it?
I would say that it's the story of a young woman wanting a better life for herself and working as hard as she possibly can to get it. She's held back by her speech, you know, she sounds like a lower-class, working-class woman. And if she improves her speech, she'll have the opportunity for a better life, and that's what she wants. She dreams of a better life and she has an opportunity and she seizes that opportunity with both hands and ends up making a better life for herself.
And what was your initial introduction to My Fair Lady?
As a child, I don't think I listened to the soundtrack but I saw the movie and just fell in love with it. And when I was a voice major at Texas Tech University, my voice teacher had me learn all of Eliza's material. So I've been familiar with the music and the show all my life, really, and though I had never been in a production of My Fair Lady I've always loved it.
On that note, what do you think makes the show so relevant and beloved to this day in communities all over the world?
Well I think part of it is because it's a classic and it's based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and that's a wonderful play. And like I said, it's about a woman making a better life for herself and working very hard to do it. I think that's why it's relevant today, it's because this young woman, yes she has teachers and she has help, but she does the work to get better and to learn and to grow as a person.
As far as why it's beloved, it's because it's a classic and many people like myself grew up with this music of [Alan Jay] Lerner and [Frederick] Loewe.
That said, what makes this production, which is straight from Broadway, different from prior incarnations of the show?
Well I think people have done it in the past where they think Eliza and Henry end up together in a romantic relationship or that she stays there, living in the same house as Colonel Pickering and Henry Higgins, and they all coexist together, not necessarily in a romantic way. [In our production] you get the impression that Eliza's future is different than is usually thought of.
Now that you've performed regionally and on Broadway, what would you say differs small town audiences from Broadway audiences, in your opinion?
It depends on how vibrant the arts scene is in each city. If it's a very vibrant arts scene, the audiences seem to love it even more. If arts are not as important in their community, then they may not be as sophisticated or savvy a theatregoer. I will say in a Broadway production, people generally have to pay a high ticket price and they are there and they're savvy and they appreciate what they're seeing. But I also will say that we have been so far received wonderfully in the cities we've been in, we get standing ovations every night. It's wonderful to be in a production that people are responding so strongly to and in a positive way.
I think it speaks a lot to how popular this show is. I mean, what school hasn't done a production of My Fair Lady?
Right! Somehow I missed the boat on it, but now I'm glad to be a part of it.
Better late than never.
Let's say someone doesn't know much about this show. What would you tell them to get them to come see it at Wharton Center?
It's a visually stunning production, the music is absolutely gorgeous; we have a full orchestra including a harpist, a string section, and a wind section. It's just beautiful. The costumes are absolutely stunning, Catherine Zuber is our costume designer, and she won a Tony for this production and these costumes. The choreography is terrific and plus, because it's based on a George Bernard Shaw play, it's a very interesting story, from rags to riches in a sense, and how these people and their lives change.
I think it's an extremely entertaining evening of theatre; you're getting a classic play along with great music and costumes.
What's your favorite song in the show?
I think my favorite song is "I Could Have Danced All Night." It's so beautiful and Shereen Ahmed, our Eliza, has a gorgeous instrument and does a beautiful job singing. But another one of my favorite numbers in the show is "Ascot" because it's just so upper-crust, a little snobby, British. Even though I am a great admirer of the British people, it's just really funny how we're attired in these gorgeous lavender-toned costumes. It's just so well-done and it's really fun to see everyone put their nose in the air.
Do you have social media accounts you'd like readers to follow?
I would like to say we're really excited about coming to East Lansing and one of my friends from, I was in The Boy From Oz on Broadway with Hugh Jackman, and one of my friends [from The Boy From Oz] is an instructor at Michigan State University. She teaches stage management there, Tina Newhauser, and I'm going to get to see her and meet with her students along with our stage management team. We're just so looking forward to coming to East Lansing.
And we're looking forward to having you!
Well thank you! It should be great fun.
Tickets are on sale now at Wharton Center's official ticketing outlets: online at whartoncenter.com, at the Auto-Owners Insurance Ticket Office at Wharton Center, or by calling 1-800-WHARTON.