She Could Have Danced and Sang All Night
My Fair Lady, a musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, is a story about transformation. Linguist Professor Henry Higgins decides to take a common flower girl off the streets and transform her so that she can be passed off as royalty. He believes that he alone can make this transformation, and bets on it with his friend Colonel Pickering. In his arrogance, he fails to see that the “subject” of his experiment, Eliza Doolittle, is the author of her own transformation, and ironically, Higgins is shown as the boor he is, without civility or sensitivity. Indeed, it’s Higgins who fails to live up to his upper class standing, while Eliza becomes a true lady.
The production of My Fair Lady, now on stage at the Grand Theatre in London is this year’s High School Project. Director Susan Ferley takes common high school students and transforms them into professional-calibre actors, singers and dancers. But like Eliza Doolittle, the students have to possess or acquire the ‘right stuff’ to transform.
Rebecca McCauley as Eliza certainly makes the transformation. I have seen Elizas on stage at Stratford and Shaw, and Rebecca is absolutely their equal. She handles this demanding role very professionally, and the audience completely forgets that she is a high school student. Rebecca’s cockney accent and squawks are hilarious, leading to her “Rain in Spain” moment where she conquers the cultured accent. She creates both humour and pathos with effortless acting skills and sings the score impeccably with a rich clear voice.
Rebecca does have some professional experience: she was delightful this past summer as a member of the remarkable production of Godspell at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia. I’m sure we’ll see much more of Rebecca on the professional stage in the future.
Also making the transformation from high school student to actor on the Grand stage is Emma McCormick as Mrs. Higgins. One easily forgets she is so young and believes that she is indeed a 70 year old woman.
Unfortunately, the male lead characters don’t make the transformation to professional quality as readily as these two. Nevertheless, as high school student-actors, they are excellent. However, in this production they are eclipsed by Rebecca’s professional qualities. Ben Cookson as Henry Higgins appears suitably baffled when he asks “why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Dallas Ensing plays a robot-like Colonel Pickering, which adds to the humour when he attempts to dance in the Spanish bullfight. Joshua Van Belois is the love-sick Freddy, and Brendan O’Brien is charming as spouts philosophy as Alfred P. Doolittle. Andrew Varkaris provides comedy when he goes over-the-top as the Hungarian at the ball.
Choreographer Kerry Gage has created lively dance numbers and the young cast certainly gives their full energy. The excellent dancing is established early in the show with ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly’. Nicolas Noguera and Kelsey Falconer demonstrate strong dance skills as Doolittle’s side-kicks in ‘With a Little Bit of Luck’. A nice addition to the movement on stage is the children with skipping ropes reciting the old rhyme concluding with ‘my fair lady’.
Credit goes to Musical Director Floydd Ricketts for a very rich sounding orchestra and excellent vocal harmonies. In particular, the quartet (Emrik Burrows, Claire David, Jacob Hemphill, and Andrew Varkaris) is exceptionally good. It’s nice to see Floydd, himself an alumnus of the High School Project where he was once in a quartet, back at the Grand.
Costumes are very well done. The horse race scene in particular is stunning, with all the ladies in white, wearing amazing hats, while the men are in top hats and tails. The set is also excellent, transforming from street scenes to Higgins’ home with minimal disruption. The behind the scenes work of the many high school students, their mentors and the theatre professionals must be recognized.
The original story of Pygmalion was written by Shaw 100 years ago. The story makes the transformation to today’s stage very well. Lerner and Loewe’s music with so many beautiful and familiar songs only adds to it. Come and see this show for two reasons – it’s a musical theatre classic, and Rebecca McCauley gives an outstanding performance. Someday you’ll want to say “I saw Rebecca back when…” as she continues her transformation
My Fair Lady continues at the Grand Theatre, London until September 29. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
My Fair Lady
Music by Frederick Loewe
Lyrics & Book by Alan Jay Lerner
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion
Directed by Susan Ferley
Choreographed by Kerry Gage
Musical direction by Floydd Ricketts
Performed by the students of the High School Project
Grand Theatre, London
September 18 to 29, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson