Review by J. A. Di Bello
FORESTBURGH, NY (June 19, 2014) – Tuesday night’s opening performance of“My Fair Lady” at the Forestburgh Playhouse, ignited the discriminating minds and appreciative hands of the Playhouse’s devotees. Before going further, it can be accurately stated: This production received a standing ovation as the curtain fell Tuesday night. “My Fair Lady” frequently labeled “The Perfect Musical” is the legendary product of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. It was awarded seven Tony Awards in the fabulous fifties, and is based on the well know play “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw, which in appropriate fashion was inspired by Ovid’s narrative, “Pygmalion,” the legend of a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory and fell in love with her.
But Greek myths and Tony Awards are not current concerns. Franklin Trapp, Producer, is! So, let it be known; he is most serious about delivering quality musical theatre to this portion of Western Sullivan Country. To be fair, a legitimate review of Tuesday night’s presentation must include the evening as a whole. And to cover that base, one must seriously consider the pre-show Cabaret in the Tavern “Broadway Now!” It serves the clear and unadulterated purpose of establishing expectations and setting the tone of the evening.
And set the tone it did, as the Playhouse’s exceptionally talented ensemble of youthful actors presented an exciting collection music and songs judiciously excerpted from “Ma Ma Mia,” Disney’s “Aladdin,” “Kinky Boots,” and “The Book of Mormon.” It was appropriately playful and alluring as it featured a spirited Kerstin Anderson and an exceptionally vigorous Caitlin Hamm. Also, living up to expectations was the vocal performance of Caleb Funk. Also of note was the group’s accompanist, Henry Lewers. A young and talented pianist with the ability to musically concentrate (not miss a note) while surrounded by a bevy of tantalizing young women. Further and to consider the elusive je ne sais quoi of the evening, add to the Cabaret’s ensemble Chef JillPadua, a culinary cutie and her celebrated not to mention delicious creativity.
“The Perfect Musical” it’s been called. Perhaps it’s the number of musical numbers that became popular hits of the time period and continue to this day to be “on the tip of your tongue,” especially following this production. Also contributing to this label is the fact that “My Fair Lady” although set in the United Kingdom (UK) during the Edwardian Era,was presented on Broadway in the mid-50s, a time when rhythm was distinguishable and lyrics were easily understood. Patrons, this writer is told, actually left the theatre humming or even singing a few bars of “I could have Danced All night.” or “On the Street Where You Live.” Other memorable tunes that remain in the minds of theatre goers are “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” “With a Little Bit of Luck, and “The Rain in Spain.”
All of this leads to a story of class distinctions and social snobberies. This issue is repeated by the costumes of note so thoughtfully designed by Ashley Poteat. They purposely display the economic and social range of the characters depicted. The opening scene depicts a stuffy old professor of linguistics, Henry Higgins played by Bruce Sabath, touting his exemplary skills in the area of speech identification and correction. He listens and records the ranting of a lowly, undisciplined spitfire Cockney street vender, Eliza Doolittle, brought to the stage by a spirited Jessica Wagner. Boasting of his prowess, Higgins claims, given time he is able to transform Eliza into a “Proper Lady” and will, without detection, present her at a prestigious social event. A wager is confirmed with a new-found friend, Colonel Pickering, adequately played by Chet Carlin. That established, a battle of wits begins.
Bruce Sabath, as Henry Higgins, speaks and shouts his lines as opposed to singing. It is in the style of the well-established Rex Harrison and works effectively in this drama, while Jessica, as Eliza, a feisty, credible spitfire, proves to be an admirable and respected foe of Henry Higgins as their respective worlds collide and the verbal duels begin in earnest. Jessica Wagner’s vocal delivery is effective, though for a reason unclear to this writer is characterized by a musical effect known as vibrato. But these two actors, vocalists with their combined techniques prove efficient for director Misti Wills, who has beautifully combined passion and pathos to this master piece of musical theatre!
Joyful and robust is the role of the slacker. Tankards of brew and friends to sing with are clear and abundant on the stage at the Forestburgh Playhouse. The appreciation of Eliza’s full-of-the-dickens father, Alfred P. Doolittle, beautifully portrayed by Kevin Remington was clearly evident at curtain. He was a joy and in that role and was to an extent aided by scenic designer Bradley Wehrle. The street scenes featuring the lovable old man were filled with color and vitality, a meaningful and significant contrast to the blandness of an Edwardian library. The design also allowed room for Gabriella Perez to work her spells of creative and stimulating choreography, especially evident in the crowd-pleasing “Get Me to the Church on Time,” as effectively brought to life by Kevin Remington, Tommy Betz and the remaining ensemble. So well done was this number, it approached the status of a good ol’ fashioned show-stopper. “Ding, dong, the bells are gonna chime”!
“My Fair Lady” is a literate musical with intelligent book and lyrics. It’s is a classic and has been appropriately presented by producer Franklin Trapp and his merry thespians. There remains but small doubt in this reviewer’s mind that patrons will leave the Forestburgh Playhouse signing or humming one of those beautiful, unforgettable songs! Which will it be: “Get Me to the Church” or maybe “On the Street Where You Live”?
“My Fair Lady” is playing at the Forestburgh Playhouse, Forestburgh through Sunday, June 29. Evening performances for all shows are presented every Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM. Pre-show Cabarets are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Matinee performances for all shows are presented Wednesdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Box Office 845-794-1194.