“Every duke and earl and peer is here / Everyone who should be here is here!”
Thus opens “Ascot Gavotte” midway through the musical My Fair Lady, and such was the scene Friday evening for the opening night of the University of Dallas Music Department production.
UD graduate Rachel Davies returned to the stage, adopting a delightful Cockney accent in her role as Eliza Doolittle, the poor flower seller of inestimable pluck. Ian Witter, the ostensibly mild-mannered grad student, stormed about the stage shouting, “Damn, damn, damn!” and displayed his impressive singing voice in the role of the ornery Professor Higgins.
They were joined by a spirited cast in performing the lighthearted musical, which delves into the weighty subjects of class, family relations and romantic pathos. The stage was sparse, but was convincingly adapted to a variety of locales from an impoverished neighborhood of London to the aforementioned Ascot horse races. The costumes were exquisite, showcasing lovely gowns, most memorably the giant pink dress of the Queen of Transylvania. The men wore tasteful suits to complement the elegant feminine attire.
Cherie Hohertz gave a tour de force in her piano accompaniment. Like the simple but well accented set, the music was not overly ornamented and augmented the lively choreography.
The audience was captivated for the two-and-a-half-hour running time. Well-placed humor and musical interludes kept the performance interesting. The chorus had many strong voices and much enthusiasm. Combined with the excellent performance of the leading actors, the consensus was that the music department once again produced a hit. As they sang at the Ascot, “What a smashing, positively dashing spectacle” it was!
It’s unfortunate that My Fair Lady is the last musical Marilyn Walker and the current music department will produce – although they’ve clearly learned something about putting on a play since four years ago, when they brought the annual musical back to UD with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.
This year’s directorial crew made creative and efficient use of the Lynch Auditorium stage, possibly the world’s worst, most cramped musical theater venue. The wooden scaffold crowning the stage fluently coupled settings as incongruent as Henry Higgins’ study and a London slum, and limited resources and a more conservative approach (especially prominent in the simple step accompanying “Little Bit of Luck”) didn’t keep the choreography from accommodating the animation and enthusiasm we expect to see in this musical. “Rain in Spain” came off especially well in this regard.
Despite the competence of this staging, shaky acting in some areas prevented the musical from being an unqualified success. The accents tended to wander all over the British Empire – there were a lot of Australians in Covent Garden – and some scenes were marred by stutters and flubs that broke the illusion of wit and cleverness critical to the portrayal of characters like Henry Higgins and Alfred P.
Doolittle. Ian Witter especially, though he has the charisma for Higgins, lacked the confidence to pull it off on stage.
The singing, however, was excellent in all cases; especially worthy of praise are Matt Quinn’s “On the Street Where You Live” and Rachel Davies’ “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.”
Overall, the performance was enjoyable. Incorporation of the substantial advances seen in My Fair Lady bodes well for the future of musical theater at UD. But seriously, can we find a better venue?
After weeks of rehearsal, Marilyn Walker’s production of My Fair Lady premiered March 16 and played throughout the weekend. And what a grand, glorious entertainment it was, a perfect capstone to Ms. Walker’s 32 years as Musical Director at the University of Dallas.
There is a timeless romance brewing throughout the story, but what makes My Fair Lady such a memorable work is the way in which it goes about developing it. This is a fairly busy play, telling its story through satirical and screwball comedy, perceptive dialogue, and a wonderful mixture of serene and rousing songs (all the classics, “With a Little Bit of Luck,” “The Rain in Spain” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” included). Often it seems more a comedy of manners and behavior than an actual love story. Yet by the end, Higgins and Eliza, light comics for much of the musical, are fully realized, fully human. At times My Fair Lady seems like a boisterous trifle, at others deeply smart and insightful. It exudes energy and elegance.
Ms. Walker and director Jamie Nelson do this fantastic creation complete justice. Their version, fully faithful to its source, is simply dazzling. It moves extremely well, the song and dance routines choreographed in superb fashion (complete with great harmonies). The cast, including both alums and undergraduates, is, as is typical with UD productions, impeccable. It should also be noted that, with the exception of a line here or there, the actors demonstrated complete mastery of the challenging English accents requisite for the narrative’s sake. Also worth noting are the period costumes and the sparse (but effective) set design.
Watching My Fair Lady this past weekend made for time very well spent. Ms. Walker and the entire team at UD reminded us just how good a musical it really is. And if you did happen to miss it, there’s always the 1964 film adaptation, or Shaw’s play that started it all.