The music of Frederick Loewe remains in your head for years. Let’s face it, it is unforgettable. When you adapt it in a production like My Fair Lady, as our Winding Rivers Arts and Performance Society did this past week, it poses a tremendous challenge. When you do it in a new venue like a former school gym in Ashcroft, you double the challenge. The acoustics in a school gym are really not good, and this challenge raises an issue I’ll return to later in the review.
Dimiter Terziev, a Kamloops pianist of considerable talent, kept the music timed and flowing very effectively through the entire three hour production. A lot of time must have been spent on the Cockney accents, because they were as good as anything I’ve heard on some BBC productions. This success in itself carried the scenes.
What My Fair Lady is all about is basically the British class system of old, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. Shaw poses a question: if someone ‘bred low’, with the corresponding accent, can be taught to act and speak ‘like a lady’, what can that lady must do after she is so trained? Lerner and Lowe turned it into a musical that ran on Broadway for years.
How a group of ambitious, industrious, and boundlessly energetic people in Ashcroft and area managed to make it so successful was truly a triumph. So much talent, and so much cooperative volunteer effort, was put into the production, that it’s difficult to find fault with it. But I was told to write it as I as I saw it, and that’s what I’ll try to do.
It’s directed by Mavourneen Varcoe Ryan—now a seasoned director of several plays that have entertained packed houses each performance—and the lady from Spences Bridge has outdone herself with My Fair Lady. Everyone knew as soon as they heard of it, that it was going to be one big achievement. All that singing; all those costume changes; all those people on stage (I have to mention the crew that made the whole production work). People wondered; they couldn’t help wondering. It was going to be one enormously complicated effort, wasn’t it? Well, yes it was; all of that and more. And that’s why it was so fantastically successful.
Thanks to the lyrics by Loewe, My Fair Lady abounds with amusing comments, by Professor Henry Higgins particularly, ably played by John Kidder, who sings much better than Rex Harrison, who did the original Higgins on stage and in the film. No less impressive was Nancy Duchaine, whose Cockney Eliza Doolittle acted her part with such screeching force that the irascible bachelor Higgins threatens not to try to make a lady of her. But the challenge is so formidable, he can’t help but go ahead with it.
This raises the complex question of why he would want to try to make a Cockney flower-seller, even as comely a one as Eliza Doolittle, a candidate for attendance at the Ascot races or a grand ball filled with peers and peeresses. The reason turns out to be a wager the Professor makes with his friend Colonel Pickering: that he can turn Eliza into a lady whom no one would ever suspect came from the slums of London. Pickering thinks the Professor is in way over his head on that one. The project is to take six months.
Jim McLean, as Pickering, gave one of the finest performances in the play. His accent never faltered throughout, and he was on stage a lot. Jim also effectively conveyed his concern for Eliza’s treatment by the Professor, which he considered harsh, even inhumane. He shows the Colonel’s warmer heart convincingly.
There seemed a little too much hand-wringing by Professor Higgins in the play, though Kidder’s body language was effective enough, and he was certainly the perfect choice for the role. Still, the most noticeable weakness was the inability of some of the actors to project adequately. That’s one area that needs more training. Speaking to one’s self will scarcely reach the back or even the middle rows of an audience. This flaw wasn’t apparent in Nancy Duchaine as Eliza or Jim McLean as Pickering. Jan Schmitz, as Eliza’s father Alfred P. Doolittle, carried his lines and his acting very effectively as well.
Nancy’s failure to reach some of the high notes in the solos was forgivable, as she did so much more in her acting. She was entirely convincing and attractive as the transformed Eliza; a lady the Professor finally confesses he can’t live without. Barbara Roden as the Professor’s housekeeper was played very effectively, not only in voice, but in acting. The choir pieces were effectively sung, and the dancing sequences were lively and full of fun. The whole production added another feather to the cap of Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan and the Winding Rivers Arts and Performing Society in bringing this fine production to the area.
~ Esther Darlington~
Esther Darlington is a writer, journalist, former newspaper publisher and an acclaimed artist. She is a regular contributor to the Ashcroft – Cache Creek Journal and a long time resident of Ashcroft and the Thompson-Nicola region. You can view a sampling of her art at her website: estherdarlingtonart.ca