The second show of Theatre by the Sea's 82nd season is the classic Broadway smash hit musical, "My Fair Lady" by Lerner and Loewe. The show is hailed as one of the greatest musicals of all time. It is the timeless story of Professor Henry Higgins, the crotchety, middle-aged bachelor and phonetician and Eliza Doolittle, the cockney flower girl, who becomes part of his experiment to transform her into a "lady." She agrees to take lessons from Higgins after he insults her manner of speech after their first meeting. The story follows her journey from rags to riches in a joyful manner. The musical is based on George Bernard Shaw's 1914 play "Pygmalion" with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Director Charles Repole keeps the pacing of the show in constant motion with expert musical direction by Milton Granger and enthralling, marvelous choreography by Michael Lichtefeld. Their combined expertise thrills you all night long and their reward is a thunderous standing ovation on a job marvelously done.
Charles obtains stunning performances from his hard working cast and he blocks each scene, creating picture postcard moments for the audience to savor and enjoy. Milton musically directs and conducts a seven piece orchestra while playing lead keyboards. He obtains glorious harmonies from the vocalists. Michael creates some upbeat dances for "Loverly", "Little Bit of Luck" and the show stopping "Get Me to the Church", a tango for "The Rain in Spain" and the graceful "Ascot Gavotte" where his dancers perform them expertly.This talented cast is lead by Charles Shaughnessy who starred on TV in The Nanny and on Days of Our Lives. He is splendid as Henry Higgins. Charles brings this curmudgeon to life as he yells and rails at people for not doing his bidding. His diction is so precise that you understand every line and lyric he utters. His strong singing voice starts the show off with the tongue twisting "Why Can't the English?" teach their children how to speak. Charles continues with his expert handling of "An Ordinary Man" until you let a woman into your life then they drive you nuts and later on in "A Hymn to Him" about why women can't behave more like men. He then tugs at your heartstrings in "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" when he laments the loss of Eliza. Charles brings out the lighter side of Higgins in "Rain in Spain" trio and in "You Did It" where he wins all the praise for Eliza's success at the ball. Bravo! His leading lady, Eliza Doolittle is portrayed by the gorgeous statuesque brunette, Kerry Conte who played Mary Poppins here last summer. She is as magnificent in this role, too. Kerry handles the transition from Cockney flower girl to elegant high class British lady marvelously. Her interactions with the whole cast are splendid to behold. Kerry's songs include "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" where she yearns to be a lady which turns into a brilliant dance number, "Rain in Spain" when she finally learns to speak properly, the exuberant "I Could Have Danced All Night" when her crush on Higgins is finally revealed. She also excels in her three angry numbers "Just You Wait" where she is exasperated by Higgins' lessons, "Show Me" where she takes out her anger on Freddy after Higgins mistreatment of her after the ball and in "Without You" where she finally tells Higgins off, standing up to his bullying of her at last. Kerry's gorgeous soprano voice soars off the charts in her songs and her most impressive moment is the High C at the end of "I Could Have Danced All Night" which sends chills up your spine. She also displays her comic prowess in Cockney scenes and especially funny is when she tells Dover to move his bloomin' arse at the Ascot races. Charles and Kerry have terrific chemistry together as these leading players.
Higgins' right hand man, Colonel Pickering is played with gusto by Tom Gleadow. He plays this stodgy older man who treats Eliza respectfully. Tom obtains a chance to display his strong singing voice in "Rain in Spain" trio and especially in "You Did It" when he sings of Higgins success at the ball. Tom gives the role the needed comic timing which I witnessed 30 years ago when he played Horace in "Hello, Dolly" at RIC. A fantastic comic performance is given by Bill Dietrich as Eliza's constantly drunk father, Alfred P. Doolittle. His acting is as splendid as his singing voice which he displays in "A Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church" which both turn into huge chorus and dance extravaganzas. His over the top acting leaves you laughing in the aisles.
Zachary Berger plays Freddy, Eliza's love interest. He plays the naive, rich, spoiled idler wonderfully and his singing voice is heard in "On the Street Where You Live." Ellen Peterson is a hoot as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins maid as well as Freddy's haughty mother. She displays her singing voice in this role and delivers many laughs with her comic one liners. Maria Day Hyde shines as Mrs. Higgins, playing her with right amount of indignation and feistiness. Maria is especially funny in the Gavotte scene and in her line "Bravo, Eliza" where she cheers the girl on after standing up to her bully of a son. She has an excellent quaver to her voice playing this much older woman. Maria first played Sandy in "Grease" at Theatre by the Sea back in 1980 and returns to trod the boards of the theatre once again. The most outstanding group numbers are Doolittles two songs and the Ascot Gavotte where the upper crust Brits show no reaction to the exuberant race. The multitude of gorgeous breathtaking costumes are by Kathleen Edwards from Music Theatre of Wichita and the marvelous sets are by Michael Kramer.Kudos to Bill Hanney, Kevin Hill and everyone who made "My Fair Lady" a smash hit and one of the must see shows of this summer season..