Review: My Fair Lady. Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Produced by Village Theatre. Directed by Brian Yorkey. Choreographed by Kathryn Van Meter. Music Direction by Tim Symons and Bruce Monroe. With Mark Anders, Allison Standley, Dan Kremer, John Patrick Lowrie, Gretchen Krich, Priscilla Hake Lauris. Now through January 3, 2016 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre in Issaquah and performing January 8th through January 31, 2016 at the Everett Performing Arts Center in Everett, Washington.
Two local productions of insanely beloved Broadway musicals are being staged right now, and both have a “Julie Andrews” connection.
And, neither show is “Victoria/Victoria” or “Camelot”.
Up first, the Village Theatre’s production of the Lerner/Lowe musical masterpiece, My Fair Lady, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s equally masterful play, Pygmalion. Set in Edwardian London, it’s the timeless tale of the priggish upper crust snob Henry Higgins and his magical make over of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, into a…well, a “fair lady”. One of the theater’s most popular musical theater works, this show is both beloved for its gorgeous music and its clever story, plot and characters which are all directly lifted from the Shaw play. The fact My Fair Lady essentially has a libretto by one of the world’s greatest playwrights, is probably a large part of its success.
My Fair Lady is one of the Big Ones in the canon of great Broadway musicals, but it’s also a tad…elderly. The mega hit musicals of the mid 2oth Century are still beloved by many, but younger audiences can have a harder time connecting to their pacing and structure. My Fair Lady isn’t “Avenue Q” or “Spring Awakening” or “Hamilton”…it’s a dilemma faced by most musical theater companies. How to appeal to the older audiences (who buy season tickets and donate money to non-profit theaters) and younger audiences who will see a popular show many times if they like it (and, will hopefully one day be prosperous enough to buy season tickets/donate large sums of money to non-profit theaters…)
I’m not sure if My Fair Lady has much to offer to the young other than pretty songs and clever dialogue. But, for musical theater purists, that is enough, plus MFL also has a terrific setting (Edwardian London) which can provide visual treats with set design and costuming.
The Village’s “Lady” provides all audiences with a strong cast led by Mark Anders as Henry Higgins, who is just a delight in the role…which shouldn’t be a surprised to local hardcore theater goers who might remember that Mr. Anders played this role in Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of Pygmalion a few years back…and, was just as delightful then as he is now. He’s one of the chief reasons to see this production, as he ably handles both Shaw’s smart dialogue and Lerner/Lowe’s lovely songs.
The rest of the cast is strong, too, with Dan Kremer superb as Higgins’ sidekick Colonel Pickering who drolly comments on much of the proceedings with great wit and fantastic timing. Priscilla Hake Lauris’ deliciously wry take as Higgins’ put upon mother, Mrs. Higgins is also a crowd pleasing winner.
As for Allison Standley’s Eliza, she’s a beautiful singer who eerily channels Julie Andrews (the original Broadway Eliza who famously did NOT get the role in the hit film) at times. Her Cockney accent was a bit forced but other than that, she’s just terrific in this role and she and Mr. Anders make for an ideal stage couple.
While Cynthia Savage’s lovely Edwardian period costumes are a huge asset for this production (she cleverly designed the famous Ascot race scene in the traditional black/white scheme made famous by original designer Cecil Beaton, but she also adds in splashes of a cheeky red as the accent color), the sets were a bit of a let down and not up to the usual high standards at the Village…were the costumes so expensive that they had to cut back on set expenditures? The use of flat backdrops without any dimension looks a tad “community theater-y” here; the exterior of Higgins’ house, the scene for “On the Street Where You Live” was particularly bland and not interesting.
This “Lady” has a lot of good going for (chiefly the actors and the costumes), and the not so good (drab sets), and the middling (Brian Yorkey’s rather lackluster direction; there’s one or two clunky moments staged, particularly some of the “interstitial” in “front of the curtain” scenes, that just don’t work very well.) But, overall, this “Fair Lady” is a pleasant enough revisit to an old beloved friend from the past. Recommended for MFL fans and mid-century musical enthusiasts.
Review: The Sound of Music. Music by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Produced by the 5th Avenue Theatre. Directed by David Bennett. Choreography by Trina Mills. Music Direction by Kat Sherrell. With Kirsten deLohr Helland, Hans Altwies, Jessica Skerritt, David Pichette, Anne Allgood. Now through January 3, 2016 at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Meanwhile, back in the Big City, the 5th Avenue Theatre has dusted off the wimples and the swastika flags for their umpteenth production of the insanely popular Rodgers & Hammerstein classic The Sound of Music, the infamously revered fantasy musical about a conniving young nun-to-be who infiltrates an Austrian sea captain’s manor house and worms her way into a profitable marriage with said Austrian sea captain, by gaining the love and trust of said captain’s brood of 7 children. The original stage show, with a 112 year old Mary Martin oddly cast as the 20 year old nanny was a monster hit and the subsequent film version, with an adorably butch Julie Andrews was an even bigger hit worldwide, (though not in Austria apparently, but since Austria hasn’t been of much importance for 250 years, no one, not even Rodgers & Hammerstein cared very much…)
This “SoM”, is richly designed with gorgeous (but apparently rented) set pieces and costumes from an earlier professional production and also features a (mostly) terrific cast in these very familiar roles, including terrific turns from David Pichette who camps it up as the family friend/theater impresario Max, and from the equally delightful Jessica Skerritt who normally is the female lead, but here does a lovely job in support as Baroness Elsa, who’s also vying for the hand of that Austrian sea captain. And, of course, we have Seattle’s perennial supporting lady, Anne Allgood on hand, dramatically urging Maria to “Climb Every Mountain”. They’re all great fun.
The kids are fine, too, appropriately adorable, but it’s the first time I noticed that the kids REALLY don’t have that much to do except exist as a plot device. There’s the “Oldest Girl” who pines for the Nazi messenger boy and yearns to 17, then a couple boys (Bigger and Smaller), the cute baby girl, two other middling girls and then there’s Brigitta, the only one other than the eldest, who gets much to do…Brigitta is the precocious mouthy one who propels the plot along by her constant commentary on the obviousness of her father’s growing infatuation with the new nanny. She’s the Deus Ex Machina for The Sound of Music!
As for our leads, there are a number of grumbles out there in TheaterLand, that there’s some issues with the casting of both Maria and her Austrian Sea Captain (aka Georg, which is pronounced “Gay-Org”). We’re gonna address the “Gay-Org” situation, first, primarily because we kind of agree with the grumbles of “Hans Altwies is a terrific actor, and certainly LOOKS like an Austrian Sea Captain but he doesn’t really have the vocal prowess to continue getting cast in 5th Avenue musicals and he’d be perfectly acceptable in these roles if say the 5th Avenue was a dinner theater in suburbia or a community theater but when you charge big $$$ for tickets for Broadway level theater, then Gay-Org, Bill Sykes and Mr. Applegate REALLY all need to be played by a stronger singer, even if the roles aren’t that vocally challenging…”
In a nutshell, Mr. Altwies has a “under $30 a ticket” musical theater voice (he can pleasantly carry a tune)…and, not an “over $30 a ticket” singing voice despite how nice he looks in Austrian formal wear. (But, it should be noted, he’s worth $100+ a ticket in non-singing roles, because he’s a very talented actor.)
There’s also a few grumbles about our Maria, played here by Seattle’s adorable wunderkind musical theater actress Kirsten deLohr Helland, that she is also miscast and even more grumblings that Jessica Skerritt (who plays the secondary role of the Baroness) is obviously the correct choice, and we have to say…
Ms deLohr Helland is IDEAL casting because not only is she ridiculously talented, she’s both physically and emotionally correct to play this role. She has the right amount of pluck and charm and naivete to play Maria, and physically, she far more resembles the actual REAL Maria than Mary Martin, Julie Andrews or Jessica Skerritt. It’s actually rather adorable (and smart from a visual aspect) to cast a petite actress to interact with a taller “Gay-Org” and the children, some of whom are bigger than she is. It’s SMART casting and she’s fantastic in this role.
Ms Skerritt is also ridiculously talented. (She, Ms deLohr Helland and Ms Standley, who plays Eliza in the Village’s My Fair Lady are part of the future of Seattle musical theater, and beyond….hopefully!) She COULD play this role, very ably and with great skill and emotion. BUT, why would you cast a leggy blonde to play Maria? It’s not physically correct casting; it’s lazy contemporary musical theater casting and the 5th Avenue, who frequently DOES have casting issues (examples being their Gay-Org in this production and some very odd choices in a certain upcoming production of Assassins, but I digress..) And, it should be stated, Ms Skerritt is PERFECT casting as the Baroness!
Glad we got that cleared up.
Both these shows are work checking out, for musical theater lovers of all ages. And, for you young’uns who might be hesitating, it’s important to be knowledgeable about your musical theater classics! The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady are canonical shows and in the highest reaches of the pantheon of musical theater works.