It only took me approximately five seconds to get an idea that I would enjoy the Glendale Centre Theatre's staging of Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady." When the opening lights revealed period costumes that authentically evoked the spirit of London, I had a good feeling. And I'm happy to say that it continued throughout the entire production.
The story, taken from George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," tells how phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Kelly Oien) bets Col. Pickering (N. Mario DiGregorio) that he can transform a poor flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Kate Chadwick), from a "squashed cabbage leaf" into a proper lady merely by improving her speech. The test will be to see if she can mingle with high society at the annual Embassy Ball without being detected.
Numerous obstacles make the experiment difficult, primarily Eliza's cockney accent and rudimentary upbringing. As the daughter of dustman Alfred P. Doolittle (Richard Malmos), a man about town with interesting principles and a propensity for drinking, Eliza hasn't had any opportunity to rise above her station.
Further complicating the picture is Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Chanlon Kaufman), an upper-middle class young man who becomes infatuated with Eliza. Bred with more manners than money, he has nothing practical to offer and no means to support her.
Despite the bits of comedy in attempting to get Eliza to capture the "majesty and grandeur of the English language," especially challenging with a mouth full of marbles, the play is primarily a commentary on the class system and social morality. Poor and uneducated, Eliza knows her place in society. After being taught manners and proper speech but lacking any skill or trade, her options become much more limited. And when her father is bequeathed an accidental inheritance, he is forced — amusingly but unwillingly — to suddenly become respectable.
All the cast members do justice to their roles, with the primary standout being Chadwick. She captures Eliza's spunk and aspiration quite nicely, and successfully masters the necessary change in Eliza's speech very believably. Top that off with a marvelous voice to carry all the classic standards this show contains. Oien does a good job capturing Higgins' droll sarcasm and utter exasperation.
They receive excellent support from DiGregorio and Malmos, with the latter particularly humorous in his exploits. In the performance I saw, Kaufman as Freddy experienced a minor technical problem with his microphone.
To his credit, his excellent rendition of the memorable "On the Street Where You Live" was sincere and powerful, and he was undeterred by the glitch.
Special note should be taken of the choreography.
This show is known mainly for its music, but Paul Reid has staged a few vibrant dance numbers that give it a boost of energy.
One of the gems I've always observed about the Glendale Centre Theatre is how they can take a small stage and dress it so well in many different shows. This one is on par with the rest. The sets are simple but the space is utilized well and captures the London streets and Higgins' residence effectively.
If you're a fan of this show, you won't be disappointed. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1957 and confirms, even after 50 years, why the classic ones endure.