Oldcastle's "My Fair Lady" is a beaut

When Oldcastle Theatre Company's founding artistic director Eric Peterson calls "My Fair Lady" the best musical ever produced, he's not kidding. In watching from the front row during opening weekend, one is quickly reminded how one catchy tune after another has been deeply etched into global consciousness.

The show, directed by Frank Latson, is based on George Bernard Shaw's play and Gabriel Pascal's movie "Pygmalion," with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe.

The story finds Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Emma Ritchie) crossing paths with professor Henry Higgins (Scott McGowan) and Col. Pickering (Peter Langstaff).

The former, a phonetics expert, who shares amusing rapport with his housekeeper Mrs. Pierce (Trudi Posey) and his mother Mrs. Higgins (Christine Decker), wagers that he can turn Eliza into a lady in six months by teaching her how to speak properly, and then adding on all the social graces as needed.

Eliza's test at the Ascot races is also met by Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Christopher Garcia), and the potential of a romance blossoms. Eliza's father Alfred P. Doolittle (Richard Howe) moves in and out of her life, too.

The remaining characters of the ensemble and other characters include Mrs. Eynsford-Hill (Catherine Seeley), Harry (Mike Chapman), George (John Curtis), Jamie (Atticus Ray), Maid One( Mariella Flor Olivo) and Mrs. Hopkins (Amanda) Garcia.

The 1956 Broadway premiere starred heavyweights of the day: Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, no less. It broke the record for what had been the longest run of any major musical theatre production in history.

It's also a show that, although long at more than two hours with an intermission included, does not give that impression at all because theh storyline is one that captures the imagination.

It's very rare that I don't single out almost all the main performers, but this is one of those rare times. To be sure, there were superb moments headlined by sang and dance numbers - such as those by Richard Howe - and breathless power in top-quality voices, such as with the young Mr. Garcia leaving us back in our seats. The expected, fine subtle nuances of Peter Langstaff also graced this show.

This little theatre company in southwest Vermont continues to impress us with its verve and can-do approach. In "My Fair Lady," to say anyone was less than excellent would be wrong. Therefore, the cast, as one, stood out as might be expected in such a grand spectacle.

Musical director Tim Howard - he of the brilliant piano playing - and choreographer Ron Ray outdid themselves. John Auperlee's set, complete with mobile Greek columns and a delightful nook for the Howard and his piano, was aesthetically perfect. Costumes by Phyllis Chapman deserve a standing ovation of their own, most notably Mrs Higgins' Ascot get-up. Lights by Dave Groupe and sound by Cory Wheat were effective and on their marks. Emily Ralston should take a bow for her tireless stage management.

But really: hats off in this case must go to the entire production effort by Oldcastle. Putting on "My Fair Lady" is no easy trick for a major Broadway revival backed by seemingly limitless resources.

For Oldcastle, there's no other way to say it: it's a huge deal. If you are anywhere within 50 miles of southwest Vermont, you must see this show.

"My Fair Lady" runs through Aug. 31 at Oldcastle Theatre Company at 331 Main St. in Bennington. For tickets and information call 802-447-0564 or visit www.oldcastletheatre.org.

Telly Halkias is the Stage Names drama critic and an award-winning freelance journalist. E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com Twitter: @TellyHalkias


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