Vista, CA---As summer seasons go, Moonlight Stage Productions can boast of a very successful one so far. Let me count the ways: Kicking off the season in June with Monty Python’s “Spamalot” starring Sean Murray with an eye to the ‘brighter side” as The Mighty King Arthur, to the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious flying “Mary Poppins” with Jessica Bernard as the more than competent Poppins in July and now through Aug. 30th the ever amazing and beloved Lerner and Loewe 1956 hit “My Fair Lady” with the beautiful Hilary Maiberger as ‘The rine in spine sties minely in the pline’ Eliza Doolittle, this has been a bonanza summer for new chief in charge Steve Glaudini.
Moonlight Stage Production has pulled out all the plugs in mounting this Lerner and Loewe favorite by bringing in the handsome Hank Stratton as Henry Higgins and the beautiful Hillary Maiberger as Eliza Doolittle the cockney street urchin/flower girl Higgins agrees to teach 'to speak like a lady’.
Those two are a given, but supporting roles come in big bunches with the incredible Jamie Torcellini as Eliza’s father Alfred E. Doolittle, Jim Chivick as Colonel Pickering, Susan E.V. Boland as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper, and now retired as Artistic Director of Moonlight, Cathy Brombacher as Henry’s mother, the indomitable Mrs. Higgins. That’s what I call an A-1 overall cast.
The dynamic duo of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” based on G.B. Shaw’s “Pygmalion” that hit the Broadway stages in 1956 set a record for (then) for the longest run of any major musical theatre production in history.
Henry Higgins is a genius at detecting accents and their place of origin; he’s a noted phoneticist. At a chance meeting outside Covent Gardens, flower girl Eliza Doolittle literally bumps into Higgins and, shall we say the only sparks that managed between them were daggers. “Why Can’t The English Learn to Speak?”
After Higgins brags to his linguist friend Colonel Pickering that he could train Doolittle to speak properly (get rid of her cockney accent) within six months, they leave for Higgins’ home at 79 Wimpole Street. But being the spunky gal that she is, Eliza shows up the next day at Higgins’ door begging for speech lessons so she can get off the streets and be an assistant at a proper flower shop.
(Sets are provided by: Music Theatre of Wichita.)
Colonel Pickering takes Higgins at his word, follows up with the bet and agrees to finance the lessons. Before Eliza knows what happened to her, Mrs. Pearce has her upstairs, in the bathtub, scrubbed and in new frocks. Bet on! “Just You Wait Henry Higgins”.
In the meantime, Eliza’s father (an errant alcoholic) learns of Eliza’s new living arrangements and promptly shows up at Higgins’ home hoping to get a little something, something from Higgins since he believes that Eliza’s reputation is being compromised. (This is good for a laugh or two knowing Doolittle and his reputation.) “With a Little Bit Of Luck”. He leaves with his tail between his legs and a five-pound note agreeing that Higgins can continue his lesson. Higgins begins the grueling process of ‘teaching’ Eliza to speak the proper English.
Shaw doesn’t do Eliza any favors nor do Lerner’s book and lyrics. The way Higgins talks to and treats Eliza is one for the misogynistic books. If Higgins weren’t such a twit with regards to Eliza, one might take a liking to him, but he shows such little disregard for women, and Stratton does it so well, that he’s more pugnacious than anything else, and succeeds at it.
Not to worry though. Between his mother (Kathy Brombacher is at home on her beloved Moonlight stage and Mrs. Higgins belongs to her) and finally Eliza, he does come to heel. Well, not before he puts her through the dredges of practicing her diction by way of all night sessions and her mouth filled with stones a la Demosthenes with promises if candy treats if she succeeds. “The Rain In Spain”.
With Steve Glaudini directing, Carlos Mendoza choreographing and Elan McMahan conducting a twenty-five piece orchestra from the pit and Lerner and Lowe’s no less than twenty five musical numbers, and recognizable songs (just ask the gal’s sitting on both sides of me) that so completely make this rags to riches under duress story one of the greats, it’s easy to forget how entertaining an evening “My Fair Lady” can be.
Don’t expect to see a replica of Rex Harrison whose name is synonymous with Henry Higgins because Stratton, whose Broadway and regional credits take up half a program page, carves out his very own Higgins; both cutting and casual. He’s a standout. “I’m An Ordinary Man” and “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like (ME) A Man?”
Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry is so important in a show as this and this one has it from top to bottom. Both Maiberger and Stratton compliment each other beautifully. While subtle, a smidgen of a relationship can be seen developing throughout the course of the evening. Credit both actors and director Glaudini for keeping it on the down low even though (unless you were dropped down from Mars) the outcome is pretty well known. (“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”)
Throw in Jim Chovick’s Pickering and the triangle, he the good guy, Higgins the bully and Eliza the pawn, is complete. Chovick is perfect as the distinguished Colonel, always a gentleman to Higgins’ running rough shod. Ms. Boland, who is no stranger to the Mrs. Pearce role (she played it at Starlight moons ago) is spot on in the moment; beautifully fit and steadfast as the one female companion in the Higgins residence with a bit of compassion. “You Did It”
Saving the best for last, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that I absolutely fell in love with Jamie Torcellini’s Alfred E. Doolittle character. What a great choice. (He was last seen at Moonlight’s “Spamalot” as Patsy to Sean Murray’s King).
His portrayal as Doolittle takes the cake especially the in huge production number “Get Me to The Church On Time” which is one for the books and a highlight of the evening, thanks to choreographer Carlos Mendoza and of course Torcellini’s talents. (He teaches Tap at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in L.A.) It would be worth another trip to Vista just to enjoy that number again.
Other memorable moment, of course is “Ascot Gavotte” that shows off the stunning costumes coordinated by Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd and Carlotta Malone. (I also learned that the elegant looking white sparkling gown Eliza wore for her final exam to show off her manners and diction at the Embassy Ball was hand constructed from the floor up. Thank you Debbie.) All the period costumes are spot on.
Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting and Chris Luessmann’s sound design contributed to the “I Could Have Danced All Night” perfect evening of theatre under the stars.
P.S. The weatherman also contributed to an easy sit outside, sans blankets or extra wraps.
Coming up next is the So. Cal. premiere of "Catch Me If You Can"
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Aug. 30th
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista, CA
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$52.00