STAGE REVIEW : 'Fair Lady' Scores in Traditional Style

With any revival of "My Fair Lady," most of the expectations center on the portrayals of the "squashed cabbage leaf," Eliza Doolittle, and her insufferable mentor (tormentor?) Prof. Henry Higgins.

There have been all sorts of Elizas--witty schemers, silken coquettes, bawdy smarties, overgrown street urchins, even liberated feminists. The professor has been incarnated as everything from myopic scientist to ranting overlord to lecherous high-hatter. With something as well-traveled as this Lerner and Loewe musical (first staged in 1956), you can take chances.

In the Fullerton Civic Light Opera Company's noisy but pleasing production, Leslie Tinnaro and John Wood take traditional approaches. Tinnaro's Eliza is the unwashed, bleating product of the London slums, an obnoxious but hard-working girl. Wood's Higgins is a scrubbed, self-righteous example of West End affluence, a big-brained bully who sees Eliza as nothing more than a living experiment in linguistics.

The interpretations could have come straight off the play's character page, but that is OK. Tinnaro and Wood have sketched these familiar portraits with so much affectionate detail that their lack of daring doesn't matter. The usual done well is good enough.

Tinnaro starts a tad rackety. Eliza's first meeting with Higgins on a soiled street corner is an ear-bashing squall of "oys" and "ayes." It is not surprising that the professor is appalled. When Tinnaro wipes her nose with her hand, then her hand on Higgins' sofa, it is boggling to think that a lady can evolve out of this. Tinnaro has gone too far.

But Eliza's subsequent transformation allows the actress to sparkle. Once Eliza learns how to mimic Higgins' mannered society, Tinnaro pulls everything in and lets subtler shading convey character. The crucial race track scene where Eliza fools (sort of) a gaggle of swells is funny and endearing. Then Tinnaro moves nimbly.

Wood is not going to get sympathy for his arrogant Higgins (you always side with Eliza, even when she is off-putting), but his portrayal is consistent and eminently correct in this context. In the role's most demanding test, Wood turns the professor's final scenes of confusion into a declaration of love, ending with a winning rendition of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."

The supporting roles present bountiful opportunities, and director Ace Mask takes advantage of them. Gary Gordon as the blustery but kind Col. Pickering, Joe Kaye as bumptious Alfred Doolittle, Rusty Ferracane as the smitten Freddy and Margo Lynn-Smith as the rich, wise Mrs. Higgins all know what their characters are about.

The voices are generally good, though the orchestra, conducted by Benton Minor, often overpowers the singers. Only Tinnaro and Ferracane are regularly able to rise above.

'MY FAIR LADY'

A Fullerton Civic Light Opera Company production of Lerner and Loewe's musical. Directed by Ace Mask. With Leslie Tinnaro, John Wood, Gary Gordon, Joe Kaye, Rusty Ferracane, Margo Lynn-Smith, Nancy Sawyers, Richard Comeau, Bill Shelly, JoAnn Campanella, Jane Eatham, Carol Gustafson, Maureen Johnson, Sheree Rothstein, Edgar Burger, Maureen Hawk Turk, Jerry Sanchez and Ann McCoy. Choreography by Janet Sanderson. Lighting by Donna Ruzika. Costumes by Jenny Wentworth. Plays Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through March 6 at the Plummer Auditorium, Lemon Street at Chapman Avenue, Fullerton. Tickets: $9 to $17. (714) 879-1732.

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