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LIGHTNING REVIEW: House cheers for 'My Fair Lady'

Stacie Bono stars as Eliza Doolittle and Paul Carlin is Col. Pickering in 'My Fair Lady' Stacie Bono stars as Eliza Doolittle and Paul Carlin is Col. Pickering in 'My Fair Lady'

Let's see here. The first note I jotted down says "DM made stage simple & deep & cloaked in purple haze."

Fear not. That's no cultural reference.

In fact, the comforting and affirming thing about "My Fair Lady," which opened Saturday night at the Flat Rock Playhouse, is that it's traditional. It's also a wonder to see, a delight to hear and a fun evening all the way around.
Patrons have waited this season to say the Playhouse is back. A lot of that desire is rooted in nostalgia that we must in some ways temper with the realization that creative risk was a part of Robroy Farquhar's original charge to the band of Vagabonds that started performing in Flat Rock 62 years ago.
Leaving that rabbit trail for the main road, let us just stipulate to the court that "My Fair Lady" has arrived just in time. If Saturday night's large and appreciative sellout is predictive, then the show should help pad the theater's (once again) sagging finances.
Directed by Lisa K. Bryant (currently doing double duty as interim creative director after the departure of Vincent Marini), the show once dubbed "the perfect musical" stars Stacie Bono as Eliza Doolittle, Brian Robinson as Henry Higgins, Paul Carlin as Col. Pickering and, in a performance that ought to earn him the Silver Vagabond for the best supporting actor so far this season, Gary Troy as Alfred P. Doolittle. Does the stew need a seasoned Vagabond? I give you Jane Bushway, who does a fine job as Henry's no-nonsense mother, the only character who can cut him down to size.
My Fair Lady 4Stacie Bono and Brian Robinson star in 'My Fair Lady'As the erudite and pompous Henry Higgins, Brian Robinson carries the show, dialog-wise. As we've seen on these boards before, Robinson's comic timing combined with his singing and dancing work beautifully in a traditional musical.
What a debut for Ms. Bono on the Flat Rock Playhouse stage. As Eliza, she has the toughest role of all. She has to transform from a lower-class flower girl to a beautiful "duchess" who can pass as high society at the embassy ball as Act II winds down.
The measure of a well-known musical is a simple one to me. You've got to nail the big numbers that everyone hums on the way home — for this show "The Rain In Spain," "Get Me to the Church on Time" and, especially, as performed by Ms. Bono, "I Could Have Danced All Night."


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The story, adapted and set to music by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner from George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," is a familiar one that has been repeated in many Hollywood variations for decades: Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, bets Col. Choreography and costumes dazzle in 'My Fair Lady'Choreography and costumes dazzle in 'My Fair Lady'Pickering that he can train Eliza to pass for a duchess in six months' time. After much trial and anguish between the two stubborn personalities, Higgins succeeds, smashingly. Higgins and Pickering are triumphant after the ball and the entire household celebrates with the rousing "You Did It." No one notices Eliza, long-faced in a corner, left to wonder, "What's to become of me now?" No one has any regard for the fact that she — not Higgins or Pickering —was ultimately the creator of her own metamorphosis.
Under Higgins' guidance, she's blossomed into "a lady" and changed from a parlor game object to a living, breathing person. The outcome of the bet makes her feel she's been used. Higgins has used her, to be sure, but he's so emotionally tone deaf he doesn't realize it. When she packs up and leaves in the middle of the night, Higgins, in "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," realizes how much he misses the flower girl turned duchess. Just as the hope for romance teeters on the edge ... well, you've seen the movie.

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Besides Ms. Bono, Paul Carlin (Col. Pickering), Taylor Collins (Harry), Eddie Egan (Freddy), Austin Ku (dance captain) and Troy (Mr. Doolittle, and, yes, he's from Dublin!) make their Playhouse debut in the show. Mary Jo McConnell, a retired U.S. Army nurse corps captain, shines as Mrs. Pearce. Thank you for your service, and thank you for your service.
Outstanding choreography by Amy Jones and stunning costume work by Janine Marie McCabe make the dance numbers a colorful and dazzling visual feast. The nine-piece pit orchestra under the direction of Michael Sebastian comes through with a full Broadway sound. The sets by Dennis Maulden (DM) are just right as usual, and cleverly slid to and fro on tracks.
As the Playhouse enters the heart of the 2014 season, I'm sure it is the hope of the Playhouse business office and the Board of Trustees that this production will light up the phones in the box office and establish momentum going into "Miss Saigon," which figures to be this season's showcase. The "Season of Laughter and Love," as the Playhouse creative team dubbed it, really got going good Saturday night. This outstanding cast plus the lighting, sound and staging upgrades of the Marini era equals a "My Fair Lady" performance that might just reignite the local audience's enthusiasm for the Playhouse stage. Go see it.