It’s going to sound like broken-record time for me: One of Good Company Players’ great strengths is taking a classic Broadway musical and presenting it in a fresh and intimate way. Especially when Dan Pessano is directing.
The company’s most recent offering, “My Fair Lady,” trills with the kind of sweetness and beautiful song that you expect and want from this beloved title. It’s peppy, happy and brimming with good cheer.
Take, for example, the vigor with which Alfred P. Doolittle (Teddy Maldonado, in one of his strongest GCP performances) leads the ensemble and audience through “A Little Bit of Luck,” just one of a string of classic tunes by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Maldonado, whose comic timing has never been sharper, is terrific at bopping between amiable lug and wizened con man. If his little jig (just one example of Greg Grannis’ fine choreography) doesn’t lift your spirits, I’m not sure what will.
Doolittle’s daughter, Eliza (a strong and inspiring Breanne Gallagher, making her GCP debut), is the centerpiece of the show, of course. When the harumphing linguistics expert Henry Higgins (a stellar Chris Mangels) decides to make her his project by teaching her to speak with an upper-class British accent, the challenge is set: Will she be able to pass for a “lady”?
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Sure, there can be a hint of the musty when viewing “My Fair Lady” – adapted by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe from George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” – through a present-day prism. (In today’s version, for true love to percolate, we’d need to have Higgins fall in love with a sassy Eliza, then have her convert him to a cool street-wise lingo and updated urban-trendy fashion sense.) The storyline puts a great emphasis on the superficial as the upper-class Higgins desperately tries to improve the way Eliza talks and comports herself, to turn her barely civilized self.
But there’s also something more tender (and less crass) at work here if you dig deeper, which is that Higgins, with his overbearing manner and strident tendency to make assumptions about a person’s character based on accent and demeanor, is really quite a boor. Eliza is the one with the much more “civilized” outlook toward humanity, you could say, and by the end you might ask: Which one is transformed – and which one is the transformer?
Eliza is the one with the much more “civilized” outlook toward humanity, you could say, and by the end you might ask: Which one is transformed – and which one is the transformer?
Mangels makes his Higgins a bit grouchier than I’ve seen in many productions, with real flashes of temper and menace. Yet beneath that supposed British upper-class reserve, we also see moments of effusive joy, too, such as in a delightful rendition of “The Rain in Spain.” It’s a full-throttled characterization brought to life with great skill.
Gallagher is a delightful Eliza, with a lovely voice and a feisty streak that plays off Mangels well. Jeff Dinmore, as Colonel Pickering, who serves as a co-conspirator when it comes to Eliza’s makeover, is a blustery good presence onstage. (Another example of a more contemporary sheen to the play: You get the definite feeling that the two “confirmed bachelors” in the play might make a very nice couple as well.)
Two supporting players really stand out: Ethel Birrell is a pitch-perfect Mrs. Pearce, the opinionated housekeeper, and Leslie Cunning offers a wit as dry as a Fresno July in her brief moments as Mrs. Higgins. (Full disclosure: I used to work with Cunning at The Bee, and I always thought she was the funniest person in the building. So I’m a little biased.)
GCP veteran Tim Smith, in the other major leading role, once again offers a beautiful tenor voice, this time in his rendition of “On the Street Where You Live.” I want to encourage Smith, however, to push himself in terms of his acting – and his presence on stage. He’s got the voice and the looks to pursue lots more roles as a leading man in musical theater, but he needs to find a way to project more of a rakish, romantic charisma.
David Pierce’s set design, featuring Higgins’ beautifully detailed library, is quite nice, and Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes (including the famed ladies’ hats in the Ascot scene) are stirring. The well-prepared ensemble, vocal coached by Rebecca Sarkisian, is particularly strong this show, infusing such tunes as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” with gorgeous harmonies.
Tying it all together is Pessano’s crisp direction, which ranges from blissful little bits of inspiration to the overall tone of the show, which manages to feel light and contemporary while sticking to the nostalgic core. Pessano’s great touch with such classics as “The Sound of Music,” “South Pacific” and now “My Fair Lady” is in the way he pays homage to great works without making you sneeze from all the museum dust. Whether you’ve seen the show a dozen times or this is your first production, my bet is the experience will be “loverly.”
My Fair Lady
- Through Sept. 11
- Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon Ave.
- www.gcplayers.com, 559-266-9494
- $32 to $59