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My Fair Lady

Date

26th July 2018

Society

Viva Theatre Company

Venue

Beechhurst Hall Gardens, Soham

Type of Production

Musical

Director

Dan Schumann

Musical Director

Richard Hayward

Choreographer

Jess Clifford

Report

Author: Julie Petrucci

This well known classic musical is based around George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Pygmalion’, Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation of the rags to riches story of the East End flower girl who moves West and wins the hearts of her adopted family was made famous in the 1950s with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in the leads.  Hard acts to follow.   

Of course these days the huge social divide that the original play “Pygmalion” highlights no longer exists so there is no bittersweet irony to the story, though the full houses for Viva’s production prove what a huge draw this musical is and always has been.  However I would doubt Lerner and Loewe ever in their wildest dreams envisaged the show as an open air production.  Well Daniel Schumann did. 

With the backdrop of the beautiful Beechhurst Hall (formerly Soham Grammar School now part of Soham Village College) this production worked beautifully.   Scene changes were carried out swiftly by the stage crew (led by James Wood) and the Ensemble players, 

Nigel Thompson’s excellent sound system worked a treat as did his lighting, particularly as the evening moved towards darkness. Body mics were always on cue and balance between orchestra and stage assured.

Brenda Rose’s costumes throughout the show were excellent.  The Ascot scene was particularly striking.  Hair and make-up were also good and there were some pretty authentic looking props, particularly in Higgins’ residence courtesy of Heather Goodwin.

Musical Director Richard Hayward made a superb job of the lovely score.  He and the fifteen-piece orchestra were secreted inside Beechhurst Hall and, although unseen, theirs was a polished performance absolutely in sympathy with the stage. 

This review would not be complete without complimenting Jess Clifford on the excellent choreography the staging of The Ascot Gavotte and the exuberant dance routine With a Little Bit of Luck, in which the sheer energy of those involved was awesome.

Director Daniel Schumann presented us with a fantastic principle line up.

Richard Dodd’s Professor Higgins was absolutely outstanding.  He commanded the stage. His dialogue, which is substantial, was delivered flawlessly and he gave a very believable portrayal of this rather condescending, conceited man who, whatever he believes unwittingly falls for Eliza.   Lerner and Loewe’s music for Higgins is extremely difficult but there was a perfect balance between performing the songs in a Rex Harrison style and letting us enjoy a fine singing voice.

Kerry Hibbert was convincing as Eliza Doolittle. She was totally believable from cheeky Cockney right through to becoming a ‘lady’. Her animated face and twinkling eyes showed every mood - exuberance, sensitivity, anger and so forth.  Just You Wait!, I Could Have Danced All Night, Hymn to him, showed her vocal versatility as she transformed easily from one singing style to another. Kerry also moved easily and related well to the differing characters around her. She and Richard Dodd as Higgins had great onstage rapport.  

Colonel Pickering (David Tickner) was also very well cast, providing a calm foil to Higgins’ misogynistic tendencies. He got much humour from his role and was the perfect antithesis for Dodd’s Higgins.  A splendid performance. 

Geoff Fisher was at his best as the colourful dustman Alfred Doolittle. He had a lot of fun with the part, although I would have liked to have seen more evidence of the dirt and grime which would go hand in hand with his job as a dustman. However, his portrayal was very strong with a good singing voice, excellent performance skills and comic timing. His enjoyment in his role was palpable.

Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs Pearse, was played by Samantha Gallop who really looked the part with a severe hairstyle. She managed to bring out the kindness and leniency necessary to the character.

Viva stalwart Anthea Kenna was perfect as Mrs Higgins – the matriarchal figure who finds her son extremely frustrating. She delivered her lines with both aplomb and the required grace and elegance. A lovely performance.

Josh Schunmann took on the role of the aristocratic Freddy Eynesford Hill who becomes smitten with Eliza after her appearance at Ascot. On the Street Where You Live was excellent and he conveyed the rather silly snob with comical levity.

Lee Sherwood as the mad Hungarian, Zoltan Karpathy, added nicely to the mix as did two other “surprise” characters included by the Director for even more open-air authenticity: the beautiful race horse and groom in the Ascot scene and the lovely classic car used by Higgins to drive Eliza to the Embassy Ball.

Of course a great deal of the success of a show of this type is down to what is lightly called “the Chorus” the importance of which is rarely given the credit they deserve. I counted at least a dozen in the Ensemble who I know for a fact are capable of taking on lead roles.  Throughout there was excellent vocal work which contained some super harmonies, particularly The Servants’ Chorus.  The execution of the choreography was impressive. Ladies and gentlemen of the chorus – you were all stars.

My Fair Lady is a lengthy piece which, when well done which it was, does not drag. However, a judicious cut, which Daniel skilfully employed, as many directors do, was the Embassy Ball which, as everything that happens is discussed in the next scene, adds nothing except length.  

Staging it as an open-air production was an inspiration and it worked well, with the added bonus of a beautiful summer’s evening in which to sit back and enjoy a high quality performance given by an enthusiastic and hard working company under the direction of a talented and dedicated production team. The show was colourful, slick, energetic, and as professional as many things you see in the West End.   Thank you Viva.