When ATI announced their 2014-2015 season, I was both surprised and excited that they had scheduled a production of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady as the opener. Though I had only seen the 1964 film version of this theatre classic, I knew it was a tremendous undertaking – there are over 40 characters, not to mention the many external and internal settings, which seemed to make the show an unlikely choice for the rather limited spaces of The Studio Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. Plus I imagined a fairly good sized orchestra would be necessary to convey the many familiar songs in the show.
Well, I needn’t have fretted at all. The production of My Fair Lady that I went to see Sunday afternoon, which was directed by Richard J Roberts, was a thoroughly well-designed and cleverly staged enterprise. The score was flawlessly performed by two pianists, Musical Director Brian Hoffman and Nathan Perry, who played their instruments center-stage! The set design shrewdly included the piano surfaces as furnishings, and the interior/exterior set problem was solved with a few cast-positioned set pieces and by subtly causing the audience to use their imaginations (what a concept!). Finally, the forty-plus characters were played by a cast of 10 and we never struggled with that notion, either.
Furthermore, the performances in this creation were nearly impeccable. Taking the leads were Erin Oechsel as Eliza Doolittle and Doug Trapp as her teacher, Henry Higgins. Both shined in their portrayals. Ms. Oechsel showed a most pleasing vocal talent – never operatic nor belting in her performance, finding just the perfect placement for Eliza’s change-over from Cockney flower-girl to socially adept lady. As Higgins, although Trapp did remind me of Rex Harrison in several short passages, he made the role his own with new interpretations and subtleties. Both performers are very fine actors as well as accomplished singers and together they present a delightful pairing.
The many supporting roles were all strongly presented. Paul Hansen’s Colonel Pickering is simply wonderful, with nuanced flourishes which make him the perfect sidekick for Trapp’s Higgins. Darrin Murrell is a plucky Alfred P. Doolittle, singing and strutting through “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” with enormous spirit and appeal. And Alvin (A.J.) Morrison gives an energetic performance as an animated Freddy Eynsford-Hill. All the talented multi-character players – Joe Cameron, Cynthia Collins, Michael Ferraro, Laura Lockwood, Vickie Cornelius Phipps and Katie Schuman – move through their assorted roles and staging duties with assurance and grace. This entire cast was skilled from top to bottom and was a delight to watch.
I would be lacking if I did not also mention the beautiful costumes rendered by Katie Cowan-Sickmeier. Challenged by a libretto that places the action in the early 20th century, Ms. Cowan-Sickmeier has put together a remarkable collection that is a wonder to behold and which fully meets the needs of the script.
As enjoyable as this production was, based on the sparkling performances – I cannot help but be mindful of what ATI has accomplished here with the presentation of such an ambitious undertaking. Bravos to all involved! Director Richard J Roberts and his staff had quite a challenging endeavor before them and they met it successfully with great imagination and craftsmanship.
ATI’s My Fair Lady continues at The Studio Theatre in The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel through September 28th. You can get information about show dates and ticketing by going to http://www.actorstheatreofindiana.org/ or by calling the Center for the Performing Arts Box Office at 317-843-3800.
And don’t forget this rare theatre opportunity: