There’s nothing new about the story of My Fair Lady: flower girl Eliza Doolittle picks herself up from the streets of London with the self-centered assistance of linguistics professor Henry Higgins. It’s a rags-to-riches tale — and a prototype for not only many other stage plays, but also hundreds of Hollywood movies and not a few Washington politicians — and in and of itself the story is inspiring and entertaining.
Before discussing this production of Lady, a caveat: nothing you’re about to read should deter you from seeing this show, if you choose to. Village Theatre’s production is well-staged, with the scene changes going smooth as glass, the sound levels just right, and delightfully executed choreographies. The orchestra never misses a note nor a beat and the cast, without exception, raises the roof and rouses the crowd with vocals far above what you’d expect from a regional production. The show is fun, entertaining, and full of enough energy to raise up its audience and light up the town, for at least the three hours of its staging.
But it is not perfect. Indeed, the production seemed to stumble out of the starting blocks with Mark Anders somehow slow to fill the stage with the outsized ego that is the hallmark of his character, Henry Higgins. The ego grew enough as the show progressed to win me over by the end of Act I; indeed, Mr. Anders deserves kudos for tempering it delightfully toward the end, just as it should be portrayed, but seldom is. Without seeing another performance I can only presume opening night jitters account for the opening moments; surely, no director would intentionally have the lead be less than he should be out of the gate. None the less, coming in the first five minutes of the show, it gave me pause.
Allison Standley’s portrayal of Eliza Doolittle gave me pause as well.
Ms. Standley never seemed quite comfortable in Eliza Doolittle’s skin. Her lines were flawlessly read, even delivered with inspiration at a couple of points; but the core of acting is making the audience believe that the person on stage is the character, and Ms. Standley gave me precious little reason to believe. None of which is to say her performance wasn’t enjoyable; Allison Standley has a gorgeous voice and uses it well. But My Fair Lady is not opera, it is musical theater. There are long periods of story between the songs and Eliza’s portion of that story seemed oddly flat compared to the soaring ego with which Mr. Anders imbued Henry Higgins once he found his footing.
Still. As I said at the beginning, don’t let any of this keep you from seeing this show. In the bigger scheme of things, a Broadway musical is created to entertain, and this one does that quite well. Beyond the two leads, the entire supporting cast was a delight; most notably Dan Kremer, who made Colonel Hugh Pickering an even more doddering (and therefore delightful) old blowhard than usual; and John Patrick Lowrie, skyrocketing as Eliza’s souse of a father, Alfred P. Doolittle. It’s impossible to be over-the-top with a role like Alfie Doolittle and Mr. Lowrie guided that rocket like a champion, finding mirth in even a roll of his eyes (not an easy thing to do on stage without a camera close-up!). Kudos also to the choruses (street and proper) and the quartet of street singers backing up Eliza in St. James square.
My Fair Lady: Village Theatre , Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. North Issaquah, WA 98027 thru: Jan. 3; Everett’s Performing Arts Center, 2710 Westmore Ave. Everett, WA 98201 from January 8 through 31, 2016.