LOGAN — There was once a time when attending the theater was a major social event. Patrons dressed in their finest suits and gowns, met up with friends, and settled in their red velvet seats for an evening of live entertainment. While those days are all but gone, there is a show now and then that reminds us what theater is all about. Much like a time machine, Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre’s production of My Fair Lady took me back to the magical world of musicals. The world I knew only from records and film, but now had a chance to witness for myself. Yes, they even ushered in this magical moment by rolling out the red carpet in front of the Ellen Eccles Theater in Logan. The show was not only deserving of the red carpet and string quartet, but it was also a perfect beginning for the 20th year of the festival.
Set in England in the early 1900s, My Fair Lady tells the story of an ignorant flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, who is taken in by dialectician Professor Henry Higgins as part of a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering. Professor Higgins boasts he can pass her off as a duchess in six months time by simply teaching her to speak proper English. What ensues is the incredibly endearing tale that has become a classic, and rightfully so.
Growing up, I often watched the film version of the play and sang along, imagining that I was the star of the show. All of those feelings came rushing back as the orchestra conductor lifted the baton and opened the floodgates of memories. With each new song I had to control myself, so as not to jump up and rush the stage. This was made all the worse by the fact that lyrics flashed across a screen above the stage, tempting me to pipe in. But don’t be fooled, it is not a sing-along. In fact, the actors carried the tunes so well, that I was nearly content to sing in my head.
The cast as a whole did a fantastic job (except for Alfred P. Doolittle’s sidekicks, of whom I could not understand a word), but there were a few actors in particular who carried the show. Kyle Pfortmiller gave a superb performance as Professor Higgins as he carried himself with just the right amount of arrogance and condescension. Pfortmiller’s pronunciation and emphasis also helped me to understand his role and lines in a new light, and I found that I quite agree with him on many points. Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?
Lee Daily gave a very humorous performance as Colonel Pickering. The jolly chap perfectly fit the bill of the linguistic gentleman, and I couldn’t help but laugh every time he spit out his brandy in response to Higgins’ latest folly. Vanessa Ballam played the Cockney-gone-proper flower girl, Eliza Doolittle. She looked every bit the part, and gave an energetic performance. However, I felt that her operatic training was not very conducive for the part, overshadowing her lower-class accent and making her beginning role a bit less believable. But her vocals were very fitting as she transformed into a “lady.” Michael Ballam is well known for his versatility in the theater world, and he certainly didn’t disappoint in his role as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father. Each time he entered the stage, it was difficult to take my eyes off of him. His engaging lilt, wide eyes, and boastful swagger certainly kept my attention.
Director Valerie Rachelle took every opportunity to bring out the humor in the show. From Alfred Doolittle’s prosthetic nose to Colonel Pickering’s frequent spit-ups, the play showed the lighter side of the situation. I especially liked their take on the Ascot race. I felt the scene focused more of the attention on Eliza’s awkward slip ups, and showed a more gradual side to her transformation.
Of course, it’s difficult to talk about the Ascot race scene without talking about the costumes, which were outstanding. Every outfit was perfectly tailored and time-period. From street clothes to the ballroom, costume designer Tommy Macon made sure each piece portrayed just the right setting. For example, instead of wearing black and white like everyone else, Eliza shows up to the horse race in a bright pink dress, further emphasizing how out of place she must have felt. The set was also quite elaborate. Set designer Robert Little made sure each setting had its own distinct backdrop and props, complete with birdcage, cigars, and brandy.
From the moment I walked into the historic theater to the moment I climbed into my car with the music ringing in my ears, I was taken to another world. Yes, My Fair Lady served as a welcome reminder of everything I love about musicals. It provides the perfect opportunity to slip back in time and enjoy a musical the way it was meant to be.