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We’ve grown accustomed to the sublime audacity of Triad Stage, pushing boundaries, testing waters, and forging paths in regional theatre. A small theatre doesn’t win national awards by playing it safe. So, being that My Fair Lady is arguably one of the most beloved American musicals ever, why not go for it? Triad Stage decided it must and audiences will be enthralled with the result.
Brian Conger directs this production, as comfy as a visit with an old friend and as dynamic as only a live musical can be. There are two (barely noticeable) baby grands that provide sparkling accompaniment, with direction by E. Marie Denig, for the 17 or so songs, so many with which we have fallen in love (e.g., “I Could Have Danced All Night”) since Alan Lerner and Federick Loewe’s version of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” hit Broadway in 1956.
This story of culture and gender clash between Eliza Doolittle, a lowly London flower girl, and the sanctimonious linguistics professor Henry Higgins is as much psychology lesson as it is speech therapy. Triad Stage’s amazing cast makes viewing it again or for the first time, in a word, divine.
The voices are really the stars of this show, and they begin with Michael McKenzie as Higgins and Julia Osborne as Eliza in “Why Can’t the English?” and the classic “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” These opening numbers are just a hint of the talent that unfolds as the characters draw us into the world of Edwardian England, circa 1912.
New York-based McKenzie, last seen in Triad Stage’s Little Foxes and on Broadway in Waiting in the Wings, is indubitably spot on as Higgins: elegant, arrogant, and erudite. Bill Raulerson (Triad Stage and Broach Theatre veteran) as Colonel Pickering, provides the gruff, though soft-hearted foil, and the two work together so seamlessly you’d swear they’d been doing this show together forever.
Osborne, in her Triad Stage debut, is positively luminous as Eliza, both in spirit and voice, and is a welcome respite from the caterwauling Elizas you might have seen elsewhere. It has been said that the test of any My Fair Lady is whether the unlikely romance between two such different characters is believable. Osborne brings a bit of maturity to Eliza that is lacking, say, in the Harrison-Hepburn movie pairing. You almost believe this romance could happen, yet the ambiguity remains.
Triad Stage fave Gordon Weiss as Alfred Doolittle and the debut trio of Rob Kahn, Scott Pattison, and David Coolidge entertain mightily as the dregs of the Cockney working class barrel. These drinking buddies raise the bar, so to speak, for every performance thereafter. And when Weiss (Triad Stage’s ever-popular Ebeneezer Scrooge) shows up later as another character, the audience cackles with delight. Indeed, we see the supporting characters, including UNCG MFA candidate Miranda Barnett several times, as the actors number only ten. But when there’s this much talent in the house, that’s all right.
Apparently Nick Cartell as Freddy, Eliza’s love interest, didn’t get the memo about not stealing the show, for his “The Street Where you Live” was as fine a version as you’ll hear. Cartell, who performed the role of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway, makes his Triad Stage debut.
Triad Stage vet Rosie McGuire is the perfect Edwardian housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, and her voice lends itself to this supporting role as beautifully as it has in her other Triad Stage performances.
As for the costumes: The gowns! The hats! The suits! The spats! Lindsay McWilliams takes the lead for the first time after being assistant costume designer on Triad Stage’s New Music Trilogy. The gowns are great, as is Eliza’s flower girl garb, but it could be the men whose understated tweeds and velvets set the tone for this period piece.
Scenic design by Howard C. Jones is genius, as always: not too little, not too much. Making 10 actors and two pianists comfortable on an intimate stage while whittling down the inanimate details to their bare essence is his forte, and this set does not disappoint. The beautiful winding staircase is the centerpiece, while a backlit London skyline provides gorgeous depth. It is Jones’s world -- how lucky we are to be able to live in it for a little while.
This, too, is the magic of Triad Stage.
My Fair Lady continues through Sunday, May 5. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.