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Review: 'My Fair Lady' with Glory Crampton glorious at Algonquin Arts Theatre

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Review by Michael T. Mooney (www.michaeltmooney.com)

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“Glory days have returned to the Jersey Shore! Not Springsteen, but Crampton. Nationally known stage and recording star Glory Crampton (photo below) is currently lighting up Manasquan's Algonquin Arts Theatre as Eliza Doolittle in MY FAIR LADY. New Jerseyans can be forgiven for having a moment of deja vu. Crampton starred in the classic Lerner and Loewe musical for the venerable Paper Mill Playhouse in 2002. A dozen years later, her 'squashed cabbage leaf' of a Cockney flower girl seems even more 'delightfully downtrodden', more 'deliciously dirty' (as her tutor Henry Higgins calls her).

In the musical's memorable opening scene, she whines noisily as a passerby jostles her flowers to the pavement. “Two bunches o' violets trod in the mud!” Crampton's Eliza is a lot like those violets: sooty and bedraggled from her encounter with the streets, but a delicate beauty none-the-less. Singing the wistful “Wouldn't It Be Loverly?” it becomes apparent that Eliza has had to toughen up in order to fit in with the rough and tumble costermongers and chimney sweeps that dominate her world. Her remarkable transformation to a cultured, well-spoken lady of society never lets us forget the 'downtrodden violet' within – subtly reminding us of her humble roots while simultaneously looking downright smashing in her tiara and glittering ball gown. Crampton cleverly avoids the trap of playing Eliza as two separate characters, concentrating instead on her conflicted transition.

MyFairLady2014To bring Crampton's creation to the edge of glory [okay, I'll stop], the Manasquan theatre has wisely re-united her with director Robert Johanson. Johanson staged the 2002 Paper Mill production as the finale to his remarkable 20-year run as the Playhouse's artistic director. During his tenure, Johanson created opulent re-stagings of musicals that are still fondly recalled by New Jersey theater-goers. Ten of those starred the talented Crampton. His staging skills work amazing magic in Manasquan, inspiring his community-based cast to heights of glory [last one, I promise]. He has also attracted top-notch production designers, including the sumptuous costumes of Greg Poplyk and Jacquie Revier.

It would seem impossible to improve upon the original iconic designs of Cecil Beaton for the lavish “Ascot Gavotte” but Poplyk's subtle infusion of a touch of fuchsia does just that. While inspiring cast and crew to professional caliber artistry, Johanson also tackles the leading role of Eliza's muse, Henry Higgins. His intimate knowledge of the show extends to his portrayal of the smug yet oddly endearing Professor.

Overall, this production incorporates many of the clever visual images and wise edits used in previous stagings, several successfully borrowed from the 1964 film version. Without giving it away, the musical's final fade-out strikes a clever compromise between the embattled Eliza and Higgins that will satisfy modern audiences without betraying the original. Perhaps most refreshing are the brisk scenic transitions, something that can easily weigh down a less-inspired FAIR LADY.

Considering the resources at hand, Johanson works a kind of theatrical miracle on the Algonquin stage. But in the end it is the heaven-sent Crampton who makes Eliza's three-hour journey seemingly fly by. Her soaring voice and unflinchingly honest performance is simply 'loverly'. [You thought I was going to say 'glorious', didn't you?] “

Michael T MooneyReviewed by Michael T. Mooney March 22nd at 8pm (papermoon4@aol.com)

MY FAIR LADY plays through March 30th at Algonquin Arts Theatre, 173 Main Street, Manasquan, NJ.

Remaining Dates
Thursday, March 27 – 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 28 – 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 29 – 2 & 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 30 – 3 p.m.

Tickets:
Premium: $36 (Adults), $33 (Seniors), $25 (Students)
Regular: $29 (Adults), $26 (Seniors), $18 (Students)
Group discounts for 10 or more tickets to the same performance.
Algonquin Arts Box Office: 732-528-9211 or algonquinarts.org
All tickets subject to $2 per ticket fee.

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