Arena Stage My Fair LadyBy Xandra Weaver • Nov 16th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Arena Stage-Fichandler Theatre, Washington DC
Through January 6th, 2013
3:00 with one intermission
$84-$109 (plus fees)
Reviewed November 15th, 2012
When talent and energy combine, a cast can really bring the house down. That is what the cast and crew of My Fair Lady at the Arena Stage has done with their lively, beautifully choreographed iteration of the Lerner and Lowe classic. Set exactly a hundred years ago, in 1912, this production took every opportunity to highlight the relevancy of one girl’s battle to find her place in a stratified class society.
Eliza Doolittle, played with skill and charisma by Manna Nichols, takes matters into her own hands after meeting a gentleman on the corner of Tottenham Court where she sells flowers. A proud woman, she asks for no charity, but rather offers to buy elocution lessons to improve her speech and therefore change her station in life. The indomitable dialectician Henry Higgins, played by Benedict Campbell, promises her that he can change her into a Duchess in six months, and takes her into his home to win a bet against that claim made by his friend, Col. Pickering (Thomas Adrian Simpson). As Higgins crafts and molds his pupil, often with unkind words and bellowing commands, he finds of course that his creation changes him as well. Though he claims to have no aspirations of affection, he finds himself wanting it nonetheless. Eliza also craves affirmation, but the strong woman rises above her teacher to show that no amount of posturing or gentility can replace human empathy.
This production was a genuine showcase for Manna Nichols’ Eliza. Though initially uncouth in her basic manners, she always displayed a sense of worth for who she was. The Cockney strength of the Eliza at the start of the show is never lost, but transformed into the dignity of one who can call the world for what it is.
Other shining moments came from the supporting cast. Benedict Campbell as Higgins was domineering and hysterical, with a fantastic sense of comedic timing in his reactions. When he comes up against James Saito as Doolittle, a man who in every sense is a drunkard and a scoundrel, real hilarity ensued. Saito’s Doolittle is an expressive chap, every man’s favorite drinking buddy, a ne’er-do-well with no aspirations beyond the next pint: in short, comedy gold.
The rest of the supporting cast carried the show, energetically changing to fit the scene. Cockneys were almost unrecognizable in their shift in bearing and dialect once they became society busybodies at the Ascot opening race. Mrs. Pierce, played by Jennifer Irons, got cheers and applause more than once after standing up to Higgins, and so did Catherine Flye as the long-suffering mother Higgins. Indeed, the production lent the women of the show dignity and strength to stand up to the men who tried to steamroll over them.
The costumes and set were fantastic, and moved together seamlessly to show the passage of time. As the months rolled by during Eliza’s tutelage, the supporting cast, clad as maids and butlers, rearranged the set and changed the main actors’ costumes right onstage. The cockneys were clad in the most expressive costumes of the show, and the set literally opened in the middle to let them climb out of the underground pubs. The two effects worked together to show the lowest class as some of the happiest, despite having less to work with. Ascot’s set was simple, which served to highlight the opulent colors of the outfits worn by dour faced members of society. The most elaborate set was that of Higgins’ house, which was changed in the twinkling of an eye by a well choreographed supporting cast.
Overall, the show shone out as a piece of great entertainment. Truly, however, as great entertainment often does, it forced one to think. One left the theater wondering how an upperclassman with education and money could so lose touch with reality that only a poor girl with no worth to society could show him the value of a life. Eliza triumphs because riches ultimately mean nothing, when compared to true dignity and kindness.
Photos by Richard Anderson and Suzanne Blue Star Boy
- Ensemble, U/S Alfred Doolittle: Bev Appleton
- Jamie, Ensemble: Kurt Boehm
- Ensemble, U/S Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Will Burton
- Henry Higgins: Benedict Campbell
- Ensemble: Dean Andre De Luna
- Ensemble, U/S Eliza Doolittle: Erin Driscoll
- Harry, Ensemble: Ronald Duncan
- Mrs. Pearce, Queen Of Transylvania, U/S Mrs. Higgins: Sherri L. Edelen
- Mrs. Higgins: Catherine Flye
- Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, Bartender’s Wife: Rayanne Gonzales
- Dance Captain/Swing: Jessica Hartman
- Ensemble: Afra Hines
- Zoltan Karpathy, Ensemble: Benjamin L. Horen
- Ensemble, U/S Mrs. Pearce: Jennifer Irons
- Ensemble: Robert Mintz
- Eliza Doolittle: Manna Nichols
- Ensemble: Jesse Palmer
- Ensemble: Jobari Parker-Namdar
- Ensemble, U/S Col. Pickering: Joe Peck
- Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Nicholas Rodriguez
- Alfred Doolittle: James Saito
- Ensemble: Sadé Simmons
- Col. Pickering, U/S Henry Higgins: Thomas Adrian Simpson
- Ensemble: Kim Willes
- Ensemble: Hannah Willman
- Male Swing: Victor J. Wisehart
- Director: Molly Smith
- Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
- Musical Director: Paul Sportelli
- Set Design: Donald Eastman
- Costume Designer: Judith Bowden
- Lighting Designer: Jock Munro
- Sound Designer: Carl Casella
- Wig Designer: Anne Nesmith
- Dialect Coach: Kim James Bey
- Assistant Choreographer: Melanie Phillipson
- Assistant Musical Director: Jose C. Simbulan
- Stage Manager: Susan R. White
- Assistant Stage Manager: Christi B. Spann
- Violin I: Bruno Nasta
- Violin II: Doug Dube
- Cello: Deb Milan Brudvig
- Flute/Piccolo: George Hummel
- Clarinet/Musical Contractor: Rita Eggert
- Trumpet: Dennis Ferry
- Horn: Ted Peters
- Trombone: John Jenson
- Percussion: Danny Villanueva
- Keyboard I: Brad Gardner
- Keyboard II: Jose C. Simbulan
- Keyboard III: Kevin Roland
- Harp: Kate Rogers
Disclaimer: Arena Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8855.
Xandra Weaver has a great love of the process of theater and the creation of art that has led her into working both behind the scenes and onstage. Her career includes working for many years providing sound and lights for both professional and amateur shows as well as makeup work for a feature film. At college, she specialized in makeup to earn her theater degree, and discovered a love for directing and playwrighting. She's also been a nominee for the DC area theater WATCH awards for her work with the company of The Producers with The Arlington Players.