Utah Festival Opera fulfills expectations with Broadway classic 'My Fair Lady'

Published: Saturday, July 21 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Kyle Pfortmiller as Henry Higgins and Vanessa Ballam as Eliza Doolittle dance at the Embassy Ball in "My Fair Lady," a production of Utah Festival Opera.

PAUL WALDRON

LOGAN — The production of the blockbuster Broadway musical “My Fair Lady” is an example of how Utah Festival Opera does justice to the arts.

“My Fair Lady,” with several other productions, will continue at the Erin Eccles Theatre in Logan through Aug. 11.

The musical is an adaptation from the George Bernard Shaw play “Pygmalion.” It follows the story of Eliza Doolitte, played by Vanessa Ballam, a Cockney flower girl who one fateful day meets dialectician and expert grammarian Professor Henry Higgins, played by Kyle Pfortmiller. When Professor Higgins’ friend, Col. Pickering, played by Lee Daily, bets him that he can’t pass this common girl off as a well-born lady, they begin a journey that neither could have ever anticipated.

Utah Festival Opera’s production did everything to bring audience members what they expect from this beloved classic. The company skimped on nothing from costumes to set design to the size of the orchestra to the quality of the performers, and the result was a satisfying and entertaining show.

Vanessa Ballam was excellent as Eliza Doolitte. Though she and many of the other performers are trained opera singers, they transferred their skills to the musical theater style flawlessly.

Michael Ballam, founder of the Utah Festival Opera, was an outrageously funny Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father, who had the audience roaring with laughter, especially in his scene with Higgins. As Alfred tries to get Higgins to pay him for housing his daughter, his complete lack of any social grace becomes increasingly apparent. Everything from scratching his rear end, to stealing liquor, to picking a flea off the inside of his shirt, flicking it to the floor and stomping on it. It was these details that Michael Ballam brought to the role that made his performance so exceptional that the audience couldn’t help but applaud when he exited the stage.

Pfortmiller’s performance of Higgins brought a soul to a character that can come off as excessively rude, unfeeling and harsh. When he and Eliza fought after the Embassy Ball, she gives her ring back to him, one that had been his gift to her that she says she doesn’t want anymore. Higgins pulls his hand back to throw the ring and Eliza panics that he will hit her. Pfortmiller’s Higgins is near tears as he exclaims that he would never hit her, but it’s she who had struck him to the heart. The reaction of Pfortmiller’s Higgins is so strong and heartfelt that it’s heartbreaking to anyone in the audience.

A similar moment comes when Eliza tells Higgins she is leaving him for good, and afterwards Higgins tells his mother, “She’s gone,” in so heartrending a tone as to leave any onlooker feeling the pain of his loss as deeply as he does. Pfortmiller’s Higgins is a sympathetic character who leaves the audience rooting for him despite — and maybe even a little bit because of — his flaws. We feel his pain that he has fallen for a woman and doesn’t know how to keep her.

Daily shines as Pickering, bringing out the hilarity of the character. He performed stunts, like spilling his drink all over himself several times as he reacted to Higgins’ eccentric behaviors. He then finally gives up, puts his drink down and pulls out his pipe — only to end up smacking himself in the face with the pipe when Higgins does something surprising yet again. Details such as these bring out a performer’s comic ability.

The play as a whole was visually beautiful — the costumes were vibrant, especially Eliza’s dresses, as only to be expected, and possibly each chorus member had at least five different extravagant outfits. The dancing was top-notch and there was much of it.

Any “My Fair Lady” lover has no need to be disappointed by this production. It brought out everything that can be enjoyed about this classic musical and more.

Email: mgarrett@desnews.com

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