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’FAIR’ PLAY

for The Brooklyn Paper
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For their last show of its season, the Heights Players have pulled out all the stops for that most extravagant of extravaganzas, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s "My Fair Lady."

Thomas N. Tyler directs a cast of more than 30 actors, and that includes doubling, and sometimes tripling up on parts. He’s also enlisted the talents of choreographers Gina Healy and James Martinelli, costume designer Albert Walsh, musical director Ray Jordan and scenic designer Bill Wood. The result is "loverly."

A smash hit in the 1950s, "My Fair Lady" came into being mostly through the persistence of Hungarian film producer Gabriel Pascal, who devoted the last two years of his life to finding writers who would want to adapt George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play, "Pygmalion," into a musical.

Rogers and Hammerstein didn’t want it. Noel Coward rejected it. Finally, a young but talented team, Lerner and Loewe, came up to the plate, and the rest is history.

The musical opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on March 15, 1956, and ran for a then-record breaking 2,717 performances before closing on Sept. 29, 1962, at the Broadway Theatre. The show won nine Tony Awards including Best Musical, and has remained steady fare both on and off-Broadway. (There have been three major Broadway revivals, one in each of the last three decades, and the famous 1964 movie starring Rex Harrison - who also starred on Broadway - as Henry Higgins and Audrey Hepburn, who replaced Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolitte, despite the fact that she was not a singer and needed the dubbing of Marni Nixon.)

Why is "My Fair Lady" such a classic? Quite simply because it has everything - beautiful costumes, great dance numbers and a score filled with one memorable song after another.

"My Fair Lady" is a fine example of the "integrated musical," in which both song and dance are not embellishments, but actually serve to advance the plot. Much of this is due to witty patter songs such as "I’m an Ordinary Man" and "Hymn to Him," which Lerner and Loewe wrote for Harrison’s limited vocal abilities. But one could equally point to the exuberant "Get Me to the Church on Time" and "A Little Bit of Luck" sung by Eliza Doolittle’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle; Eliza’s waltz, "I Could Have Danced All Night"; or the "Ascot Gavotte" sequence - all of which entertain while giving the audience important information.

The Heights Players production owes its success in great part to its leading actors.

Ellen Copaken blithely sings and dances her way from the Cockney flower girl to the fair lady. She is believably defiant and dainty, and sometimes both at the same time. Her sweet and powerful voice is always a pleasure to hear.

Jerry Kahn might have been born in tweeds. He is irresistible as the irascible Henry Higgins, and his voice is better than Harrison’s.

Ed Healy, as Colonel Hugh Pickering, is a little more Healy than Pickering, but somehow he manages to pull it off admirably.

Steven Bergquist returns to the Heights Players as Alfred P. Doolittle after a long absence. Watching him prance across the stage, or going head-to-head with Higgins, one can only hope he won’t repeat his long absence.

As for the supporting cast and ensemble, except for a few blunders, such as Leslie Ross, who neither looks nor acts like a convincing Mrs. Higgins and John Bourne, who is neither a singer nor a dancer, they are for the most part an asset to the play.

Healy and Martinelli have bent over backward - and every other way, too - to create lively dances that do not overreach the ability of their dancers. And even those who don’t get in the movement look fine standing still, dressed in Walsh’s array of flowing gowns, feathered hats and fine linen.

Almost a half-century after it first opened, "My Fair Lady" is as fresh as one of the newly cut flowers Eliza sells. Its music has not gone out of style, and its humor does not seem out of date.

What a piece of luck that the Heights Players are reviving "My Fair Lady" once again!


The Heights Players’ production of "My Fair Lady" runs through May 18, Friday through Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm, at 26 Willow Place between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights. Tickets are $15, $13 students and seniors. For reservations, call (718) 237-2752.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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