It happened last night, opening night of Hale Centre Theatre’s “My Fair Lady.” The local Gilbert theatre in the round has the ability to take the classic and warhorse musicals of yesteryear and layer something personal, relevant and freshly joyful into the productions they mount.
It isn’t just Hale’s leads that can nearly make the productions stand on their own, though they often can, and in this case Annalise Webb as Eliza Doolittle and Rob Stuart as Henry Higgins did. It’s the remarkable supporting voices and actors that the theatre attracts, no doubt lured by the excellent creative teams like this one headed by frequent Director/Choreographer Cambrian James and Musical Director Lincoln Wright.
As a case in point regarding the leads was Webb’s rendition of the famous “Rain in Spain” number. Her character didn’t finally come in to just an elevated dialect, what the show’s time-tested plot revolves around. The number also allowed her to nest beautifully in the luxury of her upper vocal register for the first time that evening. Flamenco dance steps, bull-fight miming and all, the number’s inclusion of Higgins joyfully brandishing his success and a delightful Colonel Pickering played by Peter Cunniff was warm and charming.
The signature Hale successes—those well-muscled supporting roles—were showcased in spades in and around Webb and Stuart. The male quartet, with their harmonized prelude and whistling dance break in Eliza’s “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” made ensemble silk from a traditionally solo song. Likewise, later in the act as Eliza swooned and Webb’s voice soared during “I Could Have Danced All Night,” the female trio that so lushly accompanied magnified her lyricism.
Then that Hale-surround supporting cast trait exploded when James D. Gish as Freddy blew the cobblestones right off “The Street Where You Live.”
This remarkable knack that our East Valley theatre company has is especially fortunate when a dear but dastardly show plot like Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” comes around. To be sure there’s probably not a more offensively sexist character than “My Fair Lady’s” Henry Higgins. And Stuart is remarkably true to the original character. The beauty of the Hale production, and in particular Stuart’s portrayal of Higgins, is how in 2015, we manage to like such a jerk of a guy. Stuart’s Higgins is so innocently trapped as much in time and social class as he is in the confines of his bachelor pad that the character’s infuriating sexist egotism is almost understandable. Almost.
For instance, Stuart’s rendition of “Ordinary Man” was more endearing than damning. Even though it displays Henry Higgins’ impatient arrogance, it’s wrapped up in well-targeted universal relationship barbs that drew giggles of recognition from the full house.
This production’s true saving grace, beyond an irritatingly lovable Higgins, was how Analisse Webb and Janis Webb portrayed the women opposite him. Eliza and Mrs. Higgins somehow breathe the spirit of the quintessential 21st century woman into their period lines. It credits especially Webb and Webb’s acting chops. Though he is an infuriating product of his learned English upper-class, it was clear that this particular Liza with the help of his own mother, is in the process of and will continue to break his archaic mold.
With “My Fair Lady” playing a full three hours, the rousing ‘eleven o’clock number,’ Mark Kleinman’s “Get Me to the Church,” delivered the pre-prescribed and essential wake up call. It came complete with smarmy dance break, wherein director/choreographer Cambrian James had included just the right amount of tap, what the guys could manage with flare and panache. It was another instance of that notable Hale support principle. The dance echoed the befitting staggering kicksteps that had adorned Kleinman’s “Little Bit ‘O Luck” number in the first act with its sweet sliding trio of harmony.
Unlike the movie or previous stage versions, Kleinman’s Doolittle had the potential of truly reformed Dad and even seemed possible genuine husband material. That he regrets it but can’t help the goodness in himself was his most pleasant character trait.
Hale’s “My Fair Lady.” All over and in and around it, it has that loverly signature knack of theirs.
Saw it: Thursday, February 19, 2015
Runs: Wednesdays through Saturdays until April 4, 2015 – Tickets $16-$28
Hale Centre Theatre, 50 West Page Avenue, Gilbert, AZ 480-497-1181