'My Fair Lady' still charms audience

The most popular Broadway musical of all time, "My Fair Lady," and latest event in Fort Hays State University's Encore Series, played Tuesday evening to a nearly full house.

The lavish production featured a small orchestra, a cast of 27 and a large crew who manipulated five huge sets with skill and dispatch. Even though the musical lasted for three hours (minus one of its original scenes), the audience loved every minute of it. Like Eliza, "they could have danced all night" to the songs that became an integral part of late 20th-century culture. Many thanks to Big League Productions Inc. for touring with a show of this magnitude in these hard times, and to FHSU's Special Events Committee for bringing it to Hays.

Almost everyone has some knowledge of the plot, which Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play and Babrial Pascal's movie "Pygmalion." Henry Higgins, a phonetics professor in London, bets his crony Colonel Pickering that he can train Eliza, a lower class Cockney flower girl, to speak upper class English. Eliza proves to be such an apt pupil that she attracts Freddy Eynsford-Hill, an upper class, though penniless young man and eventually passes as a "Hungarian princess." When Higgins ignores her accomplishment, she leaves him and meets Freddy. Disconsolate, Higgins admits he's "grown accustomed to her face." She returns later, and they apparently reconcile. (In the afterword to Shaw's play, she marries Freddy and they open a flower shop.)

The actors, Americans all, also sang and danced, which they did with varying success. Eliza's father Alfred P. Doolittle, played by Arthur Wise, stole the show with clever dialogue deploring "middle-class morality," to which he is forced to succumb due to a bequest that has left him wealthy. Also, both his production numbers "With a Little Bit of Luck" and especially "Get Me to the Church on Time" drew enthusiastic applause. Eliza (Aurora Florence) gave a winning performance in a difficult role requiring her to speak two vastly different English dialects and sing while cavorting around the stage, even jumping up and down on Higgins' red velvet couch. Colonel Pickering's (Richard Springle's) face is well-known to TV viewers from his many commercials. Too bad he is too old to play Henry Higgins -- he would have been better in the role.

Henry Higgins (Chris Carsten) was least successful. He did everything Higgins is supposed to do, but was sadly lacking in the charisma necessary to persuade an audience that a heart of gold beats underneath his self-centered ranting, his misogyny and his downright rudeness.

There was absolutely no chemistry between him and Eliza, which took away from the effectiveness of the show as a whole.

Eliza looked foolish for returning to him. They needed Rex Harrison and got Orson Welles.

The next event in the Encore Series is pianist Jim Brickman at 7:30 p.m. March 10 in Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center. Tickets available at the door, or call (785) 628-5309.

Ruth Firestone is a supporter of music and theater in Hays. rfiresto@fhsu.edu