Light Opera Work’s MY FAIR LADY Brings Down The House
Reviewed by: Bob Sphatt
Evanston’s Light Opera Works (soon to be named Music Theatre Works) offered up their opening production of the 2016 season – My Fair Lady last night. I had seen their production of this work in 2009 and loved every minute, moment and emotion of that stellar production starring Nick Sandys as Professor Henry Higgins and the wonderful Natalie Ford as Elisa Doolittle. Ms. Ford only recently played the role again to much acclaim in Milwaukee where she currently resides. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s unemotional Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, has thrilled millions upon millions of theatre goers the world over in a myriad of differing productions from Broadway to opera houses to musical comedy theatres and community theatres. My Fair Lady possesses the emotional vulnerability the play lacks.The stars of the evening were Cary Lovett as Alfred P. Doolittle, William Dwyer as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the members of the ensemble and Roger L. Bingaman’s 28-piece full orchestra – in fine form! Cary Lovett (Alfred P. Doolittle) reprised his role from the 2009 production and is truly a fine wine. His scenes, be they acting or singing, hit the ball out of the park; a consummate stage professional! William Dwyer (Freddy) gave one of the most unique creations of Freddy that I have ever seen. His role is usually done by a singer with limited acting abilities but Mr. Dwyer, a boyishly handsome tenor, made Freddy a stand-out character – awkward, innocent and gangling but never going over the top. With his height and overall theatrical abilities I will never forget his performance. He brought the house down on his curtain call, too. Stephen Boyer, a tenor member of the ensemble, possesses an outstanding lyric tenor voice and his addition to the singing was outstanding.
Under Rudy Hogenmiller’s direction the Ascot Races scene was the funniest I have ever seen! He brought so many comedic moments out of his charges that when it ended I had to regain my composure because I have never laughed as much as I did for that scene. Bravi tutti! Hogenmiller’s pacing of all the actors throughout the three hours was so overly quick and frenetic that the leads were tripping over their lines. Nick Sandys as Professor Henry Higgins needs to deepen and return to his earlier portrayal of Henry Higgins and bring less anger and more vulnerability to his role – qualities he shared in abundance in his 2009 performances; I felt he had become hardened. When he sang “Why Can’t a Woman be more like a Man?,” I believed he wasn’t puzzled by females but angry with all of them. Missing was his wonderful moment from 2009 in the very last scene when he laid his head in his hands and cried upon the realization of what he had lost as he listened to Eliza’s voice; a shame because he can do it.
Elizabeth Telford was an interesting casting call on the role of Eliza. Where normally she is transposed from a guttersnipe into an elegant young desirable society woman, I believed this Eliza was always a flower girl. Her singing was superb. Charlie Ward was a standout Jamie, one of Mr. Doollittle’s two cohorts and brought so much energy and passion to his appearances that I was exhausted; we need to see more of him! A strange bit of casting was that of the delicious Maggie Clennon-Reberg as Freddy’s mother. Ms. Clennon-Reberg can sing and dance but more importantly: act! With those big blue eyes and that aristocratic face and composure – she should have been cast as Mrs. Higgins – a role she would have easily aced. It is a shame not to see her in larger roles as I am a fan of her singing, dancing and reacting; when she is on stage I am always observing her.
Costumes by Theresa Ham were disappointing and looked like a mish mash of wardrobe pulled from different productions. Eliza’s costume for “I Could Have Dance All Night” was in particular a disappointment. The hats for the Ascot Races were stunning however.
Choreography was by Clayton Cross; Adam Veness was Scenic Designer; Andrew H. Meyer’s Lighting Design was all over the board – especially in the Higgins study; Aaron Quick did the Sound; Katie Beeks as Production Manager managed to tie the whole production up with a pretty bow and Tom Campbell was Stage Manager.
If you are a fan of My Fair Lady, be sure to get your tickets immediately through the Light Opera Works box office at 847.920.5360 as performances are limited and runs through Sunday June 12, 2016 only. My Fair Lady plays at Cahn Auditorium on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston and is worth the visit.