Gregori and company bring ‘loverly’ musical to EPAC

Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri

When Andrea Gregori wrote her bucket list, there was something she definitely wanted to cross off of it: the chance to play Eliza Doolittle in a fully staged production of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady.

Now she can.

Gregori’s Theatre Street Productions has collaborated with the Endicott Performing Arts Center and its Executive Director, Patrick Foti, to bring the show to life. The group has been in overdrive for the past month rehearsing the classic musical, which features such hummable tunes as “Wouldn’t It be Loverly,” “Just You Wait, Henry Higgins,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “On the Street Where You Live.”

Chris Nickerson and James Michalec — as Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering — have their own chemistry as the phonetics professor and linguist respectively, who have keen ears for dialect. Higgins wagers that he will be able to transform a Cockney flower girl (Eliza) into a well-spoken lady, a “duchess” even, by the time the Embassy Ball rolls around, but Pickering is skeptical.

They only have six months to succeed, so Eliza has to move into the London bachelors’ pad (Pickering is crashing with Higgins while he’s in town). That way, Higgins can drill her on her vowels into the wee hours of the morning.

Nickerson mentioned recently that he’d never seen the film version of My Fair Lady, in which Rex Harrison reprised his Broadway creation of Higgins, but you’d never know it! He channels Harrison’s portrayal very convincingly. Note: Higgins eventually pays for his condescension of Eliza, which is a relief to contemporary audiences. Well, me, anyway. I read that a new version of the movie is in the works, too, which will address some of the play’s frustrating gender dynamic.

Jenn Riale is very good as Higgins’ long suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, whose job it is to keep Eliza respectable even as she is facing disrespect from her tutor.

Judy McMahon plays Mrs. Higgins, Henry’s mum. She also was the dialect coach for this show. Having had the pleasure of being schooled in the nuances of “High English” by McMahon, I was impressed with the work she has done to help Gregori master a Cockney accent. That abomination is much more difficult to do, so it’s so much fun to watch Gregori finally get it, by george! 

Connor Gates does double duty as stage director and as Eliza’s upper-class suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who finds her street slang slip-ups irresistible. He is intrigued by her beauty and her potty mouth, although she really only curses once.  His solo, “On the Street Where You Live,” is beautifully sung. With his hat on, he reminded me a little bit of Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey.

His Stage Manager is Alex Bojan, who has a lot of things to keep track of and does it admirably.

All of the singing, although set to a recorded soundtrack, is enjoyable, and the actors do a wonderful job following their cues. The trick is to keep the soundtrack from drowning out the actors, although they all wear microphones.

The fellows who play the street rabble Eliza hangs with before she is discovered by Higgins, sing in an a cappella harmony that is delightful to hear.

Mickey Ray is Eliza’s show-stopping, although clearly mercenary, father, Alfred P. Doolittle. He dances and sings with a lot of energy and joy, especially in “I’m Getting Married in the Morning.”

And then there’s Eliza herself. Gregori’s soaring soprano, even when her wireless microphone cuts out on occasion, is still as clear as filtered water.

I wasn’t sure if I’d like the idea of Eliza going straight from cockney “gutter snipe” to operatic diva, but while the contrast is stark, it would be a shame to waste a single note of Gregori’s amazing voice.  And more importantly, she is clearly having fun with it.

Paula Bacorn is the music director, and Susan Schneider is the choreographer.  A challenge for the latter was the ballroom scene, which includes many members of the cast. Everyone manages to steer clear of one another and avoid collisions, but the limited space (the EPAC stage isn’t very deep) impedes the fluidity you might want to see in a scene involving waltzing couples. 

Stacy Ernst worked with Gregori to provide the Edwardian era costumes, which are stunning, especially in the ballroom. 

Jeff Envid and Pam Sebesta’s  sets are very nice and utilize a variety of elements to evoke the coziness or grandeur required by a given scene.

Rounding out the cast are Peyton Hawkes as Harry and Professor Zoltan Karpathy. Caleb Brink is Jamie and a servant; Deborah Mallen plays Mrs. Eynsford-Hill; Rick Barton is the Bartender and Lord Boxington; Lisa Indelicato is Mrs. Hopkins and Lady Boxington, and Hannah Brink and Ellen Squier play a couple of maids to Mike Clark’s Butler. Justin Gosvenor and Kahli Lewis are in the ensemble. Almost everyone appears in different roles as needed so there are a lot of costume changes.

The music for My Fair Lady was written by Frederick Loewe with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. It is based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, first staged over a hundred years ago.

I reached Gregori via Facebook after the opening weekend (March 3-5) and asked if there was anything she wanted to add to what had already been published about her production of this show, which hadn’t been staged by a local company since 2000. She replied, “I would love to add what a pleasure it has been working with this cast. We have spent more time rehearsing than performing, and the process has been a joy. We’ve all learned from each other and grown together to create something we can be proud of. It has been a privilege working with these lovely people.”

IF YOU GO: Performances continue at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m Sunday (March 10-12) at the Endicott Performing Arts Center, 102 Washington Ave., Endicott.  Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors); call (607) 785-8903 or go online to www.endicottarts.com.

 

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