Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Even with a running time of three hours and some of the pacing of lines needing to be picked up more quickly, the opening show of Community Players 81st season is a delight to their faithful audience members. The 1956 musical, "My Fair Lady", based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion", about England's leading phoneticist, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, the guttersnipe he turns into a lady, has the twenty two performers to pull this show off with the direction of Andrew Bobola, the musical direction of Michael Savignac and the choreography of Rachel Ferland.
Bobola takes his performers and molds them into the proper characters of London in 1912. He always seems to tackle large cast shows and this one is no exception. He is aided in this huge task by the expertise of his stage manager, Maryann Ricci. She not only keeps the 22 cast members on their toes but she keeps the 17 scenes in this two act show moving with many set changes. She performs this enormous task with ease. Savignac who also plays keyboards in the show, has the chorus performing many beautiful harmonies throughout the show especially in the servant songs and the cockney numbers. He and his combo accompany the vocalists without overpowering them. (A word of praise to Ryan Forestall on percussion for filling in for the opening night show.) Rachel Ferland's dances are well suited for this British show in the chorus numbers especially "Get Me to the Church" and in the tango song between Higgins and Eliza. A most impressive debut with this group. Lighting and sound by Robert Ferland Jr. is right on the money and the multitude of gorgeous costumes by the talented Marcia Zammarelli especially the Ascot costumes are breath taking.The massive two story Higgins study, the London backdrop and the entire set is the hard work of Victor Turenne and his crew.
Playing the crotchety, fuss budget, bachelor, Higgins is Daniel Kirby. He tackles this huge role and makes it his own. He has a perfect British accent and gives an energetic delivery to his lines and songs. He is very impressive in the philosophical soliloquys, "Why Can't the English?", "An Ordinary Man" and "Hymn to Him", where he asks why can't everyone in England speak correctly in the first one, why a man shouldn't let a woman into his life because she'll mess it up in the second and why can't women be more like men in the last. Daniel plays the harshness Higgins very well but he also give the warmth he needs at the end when he thinks Eliza has left him in "I've Grown Accustomed to her Face". The role is usually played by a much older actor but Daniel makes you forgot the age factor and instead concentrate on the strength of his acting and singing.
Jill Pinto Gould plays Eliza and makes the transformation from the Cockney flower girl into the proper lady splendidly. Her acting really shines in this difficult role. Jill plays the innocent wonderment of Eliza in the "Loverly" song, the fantasy of having Higgins punished for his ill treatment of her in "Just You Wait", the anger in "Show Me" and"Without You" and the joy of her success in "I Could Have Danced All Night" with the hugging of Higgins sweater at it's conclusion to show how she really feels about him. She and Daniel have good chemistry in their scenes and the learning of how to speak properly is very funny and leads into "The Rain in Spain" segment.
Playing Higgins' sidekick, Colonel Pickering is John Ricci. He makes a wager with Higgins that he can't turn her into a lady which he loses. John makes Pickering an affable and more congenial person in his treatment of Eliza. He makes the warmth of the role come through and he also shows his forgetfulness of Eliza in the "You Did It" number where he gives all the credit to Higgins. The plight of womanhood in the show is seen through Mrs. Pearce (Pat LaVornia) the Higgins maid and his mother. (Rigmor Clark) The voice of reason in a crazed is ably shown in Pat's performance. She handles the character very well and makes the most of all her scenes. Rigmor makes the aristocratic, mother funny in the Ascot and ball scenes as well as standing up to her son in the garden scene in her defense of Eliza. The puppy dog youth who falls madly in love with Eliza after her transformation is Freddy Eynsford- Hill played by Bernardo Santana. He won't leave Eliza's doorstep and declares his love in "On The Street Where You Live". Bernardo handles the role of the infatuated boy very well.
The biggest scene stealer in the show is Lanny Slusher as Eliza's drunken father, Alfred P. Doolittle. His two songs are show stopping numbers. Lanny sings about how you should live life in "With a Little Bit of Luck" and when Higgins gets him a high paying job, his luck runs out, he has to get married and laments in "I'm Getting Married". His cockney accent and his song delivery's are excellent and he makes every moment sparkle while onstage. His two drunken cohorts, Brian McGovern and Anthony Mazza have great voices, too. Another scene stealer is Lee Hakeem as the slimy, Zoltan Karpathy who tries to figure out who Eliza is at the ball. Lee uses a hilarious Hungarian accent and wears a goatee as the fake phonetics expert. What a hoot.
Rounding out this large cast are Laurie-Ann Ferland, Nacy Lawrence, Dawn Boukari, Kevin Martin, Eric Desnoyers, Rene Letourneau, Margy O'Rourke, Sandra Bobola, Sheila Harvey, Sarah Bilofsky, Janice Phelps, Rachel Ferland, Donna Normandin and Erest Carpenter. So go join the Community Players for their 298th production,"My Fair Lady".