“MY FAIR LADY,” through July 13, CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, 525 N. 400 West, Centerville, (801-298-1302 or www.centerpointtheatre.org); running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (one intermission)
CENTERVILLE — Centerville, Utah seems an unlikely place to discover vocalists with the tone and depth of a masterfully played instrument.
Still, the cast of CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s “My Fair Lady” (June 12-July 13) pulled off an extraordinary performance on the show’s opening night, where cast members impressed audiences with their rendition of Lerner and Loewe’s famous musical score. Rather than spinning off in a contemporary direction, the production returned “My Fair Lady” to the classic feel that brought the 1956 Broadway musical into the public eye. While times have changed since "My Fair Lady" was first performed — classes and sexes are perhaps divided in subtler ways — many of the musical’s themes and topics remain relevant today.
“My Fair Lady" explores the developing relationship of a lower-class flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Sarah Jane Watts), with upscale English phoneticist, Henry Higgins (Andrew Heyward). Naturally, when Higgins hears Eliza speaking in the street like a “bilious pigeon,” the idea of total linguistic reform crosses his mind; he then drops money in her hat and dismisses her promptly to converse with his fellow language professor, Colonel Pickering. (Dismissal of the lower class is a common theme throughout the play and, unfortunately for Eliza, a deeply ingrained component of Higgins' personality.) Through a combination of fate and self-determinism, Eliza finds herself living in Higgins' home as a student of language with the aim of eventually attending a party at Buckingham Palace.
As Eliza’s English evolves, so does her strength of character. She becomes capable of withstanding her tutor's frequent, often classist or sexist attacks. Language seems to have enabled her to recognize herself as his equal; gradually, she refuses to accept his mechanical, means-to-an-end manner of relating to her. While the play may seem to be about teaching Eliza to speak “proper" English, it also attempts to reveal the shared humanity that lies behind cultural barriers. Once Eliza and Higgins are on equal ground, Eliza proves Higgins to be more of a “low-life” in spirit than herself.
Eliza’s true identity, by contrast, is less obvious. Although speech enables her to act with greater efficacy and confidence toward the play's end, there is no outstanding evidence she's become a fundamentally different person than the outspoken, unreserved, overlooked flower girl wailing in the street. Her behaviors and experiences have changed — yet, on the most basic level, she remains a woman of one identity. Watts, albeit changing her behavior dramatically by the second act, seems to illustrate Eliza as a whole, chronological individual. For a comedic, fairly straightforward musical, “My Fair Lady” lends itself to a number of interesting discussions about identity, class, gender and social roles.Comment on this story
While the piece stands well as a story, the comedic musical numbers which reveal the character’s emotional inclinations highlight the script. On Wednesday night, Watts blew the audience away with what an audience member called a “fabulous” vocal performance. Freddy (Christian Lackman), who sang beautifully of his undying affections for Eliza “on the street where (she) lives,” also made a lasting impression. When the cast was singing as a group, the harmonies within the music seemed to mimic the character’s relationships; the wonderful dance choreography additionally emphasized the way that characters understand one another. Although the script, production, and acting were executed almost perfectly, the musical performances were by far the most stunning aspect of the experience.
If you’ve considered seeing “My Fair Lady” live, it’s unlikely you’ll come across a better rendition than CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s anytime soon.
Content advisory: "My Fair Lady" is suitable for all ages.