Monday, June 16, 2014

My Fair Lady, Porthouse Theatre

(Eliza and friends, pre-transformation.)

There are few Broadway musicals that have as many killer numbers as My Fair Lady. This iconic Lerner and Lowe show, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is a veritable feast of now-standard tunes—from “I Could Have Danced All Night” to “On the Street Where You Live” and from “Get Me to the Church On Time” to “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face.”

In short, this show about the Cockney ragamuffin Eliza Doolittle being transformed into a refined lady never gets old, as long as the performers are up to the task. And happily, this production at the Porthouse Theatre has two stellar performers in the key roles.

As Eliza, Porthouse regular Kayce Cummings spits and snarls as the roughhewn Eliza, setting the stage for her miraculous morphing at the hands of Professor Henry Higgins—played and sung with velvety panache by Greg Violand. These actors have appeared opposite each other before, and use their chemistry to fashion scenes that pulse with genuine feeling.

Even though Violand could stand to be more of a demanding martinet, as Higgins puts Eliza through her paces, there’s just enough edge to establish some believable conflict.

They are supported ably by Elliott Litherland as Freddy, crooning “On the Street…” with style and Lissy Gulick, who brings her adorable presence to Higgins’ housekeeper Mrs. Pearce.

Geoff Stephenson as Colonel Pickering is fine, if a bit unfocused. And in the comic role of Alfred P. Doolittle, Rohn Thomas exhibits the perfect swagger and rowdy vibe of Eliza’s boozy dad. But some imprecision in his performance and singing tends to blunt the effect his character could have on the proceedings.

Once again, Porthouse is using two-piano accompaniment for this show, evidently due to budgetary and other restrictions. Unfortunately, this often gives the production the feel of a rehearsal run-through, no matter how hard music director Jonathan Swoboda and his piano partner Melissa Fucci pound on the keyboards.

This means the rich, full sound of an orchestra is missing when emotional points hit their peak, and this does a disservice to the magnificent Lerner and Lowe composition. But hey, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld’s take on the Iraq war, you do a show with the instruments you have, not with the instruments you might want.

Director Terri Kent, as always, manages to get the most out of her ensemble. And the costumes by S.Q. Campbell are spectacular, especially the ladies outfits in the Ascot Race scene—gorgeously inventive back & white confections.

Even with just pianos, the songs you love are here and they are still as “loverly” as ever.

My Fair Lady
Through June 28 at the Porthouse Theatre, Blossom Music Center campus, 1145 W. Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls, 330-672-3884.

No comments: