By Daniel Skora
It’s Broadway in Dexter with The Encore Musical Theatre putting on a production of “My Fair Lady” that’s so good it’s worthy of a New York audience. Musicals are the hallmark of The Encore, but with this show they’ve exceeded even what their audiences have come to expect. Some of what makes their production of the Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe Broadway classic so good are the talented out-of-towners who have made significant contributions to the production. First and foremost is director Tony Walton, whose home must have a very large mantel to accommodate his many Tony and Drama Desk Awards for costume and set design with shows like “Pippin” and “”Guys and Dolls”. He even has an Oscar (“All That Jazz”) and an Emmy (Death of a Salesman”) thrown in just to keep them company. In addition to directing, Walton doubles as set designer, contributing striking architectural drawings whose projections do much to establish place.
The role of Henry Higgins is played by Daniel Gerroll, reknown British actor who has extensive credits in film, television, and stage on both sides of the Atlantic. The beautifully-voiced Jessica Grové, who plays Eliza Doolittle, has appeared on Broadway in such shows as “A Little Night Music”, “Sunday in the Park with George”, and “Les Misérables”, and has numerous Regional and National Touring credits as well. New to The Encore stage is Dale Dobson in the role of Colonel Pickering, Riley McFarland as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and Connie Cowper as Mrs. Higgins.
“My Fair Lady” is the 1956 musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play about a professor of linguistics who makes a bet that he can transform a Cockney flower girl into a lady by coaching her (perhaps browbeating her is a better description) in the pronunciation and articulation of the English language as spoken by British gentility. But the relationship between Eliza and Professor Higgins eventually becomes less about words and more about gender. Who amongst us, and that includes most typical red-blooded American males, would not want to change the play’s final scene and give Eliza her proper due as a modern-day twenty-first century female and all of the freedom and self determination that comes with it.
But plays come attached with the historical perspective of the times in which they were written, and the times have undisputedly changed, not only since Shaw’s 1912 play, but also since Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 musical. When the dictates of the playwright’s script are strictly adhered to, certain aspects of “My Fair Lady” must always be present. This includes, among other things, telephones that work only when connected by a chord to the wall, shoes that are fashionable only when the laces are covered by spats, and the image of Henry Higgins slouched in his chair, requesting of his former ingénue to go fetch his slippers.
The show comes with a number of songs that are not only classics of the American stage, but were able to break out from the confines of the musical and become hits in their own right, like “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “On the Street Where You Live”, “Get Me To The Church on Time”, and “With a Little Bit of Luck”.
The Encore’s cast of over twenty has many notables from previous Encore presentations. Keith Allen Kalinowski, Emily Rogers, Tim Brayman, Dan Morrison, Marlene Inman, Anne Bauman, Emmi Veinbergs, Sue Booth, Jeff Steinhauer, Colleen Davis, Mary Rumman, James Fischer, Matt Whitehead, and Michael Szymanski are just some in the cast who have supporting roles or are part of the ensemble. Music director is Tyler Driskill, choreography is by Matthew Brennan, costume designer is Caitlin Graham with Eliza Doolittle’s costumes (and they are gorgeous) by Yuka Silvera, and lighting design by Robert Perry.
The Encore’s production of “My Fair Lady” is as good as it gets when you run on a budget that pales to that of a Broadway musical. The show has heart, dedication, and some name talent that were willing to pack up their theatrical abilities and bring them to a small mid-western town with a population of less than 4,500. If you can score a ticket to this marvelously entertaining show, by all means go and see it.
“My Fair Lady”, which runs through August 28th, is the hottest show in town. Tickets have been sold out for all of the regularly scheduled shows, but additional dates may be added or cancellations could occur. Call the theatre’s box office at 1.734.268.6200 or visit their website at www.theencoretheatre.org/tickets for availability. The Encore Musical Theatre is located at 3126 Broad Street in the historic village of Dexter. Take I-96 west and exit at Baker Street.