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Classic Musical “My Fair Lady” Still Enchants Audiences at Welk Theatre

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TR Robertson

TR Robertson ….My Fair Lady” was a hit from the moment it took stage on March 15, 1956, at the Broadway Mark Theatre in New York City, and it remains a hit in the latest production of the musical at the Welk Resort Theatre, running now through April 2nd. This classic story of a London flower girl who wants to be a lady by changing the way she speaks is directed by Kathy Brombacher, Musical Direction by Justin Gray, Choreographed by Orlando Alexander and Produced by Joshua Carr.  The newest production of “My Fair Lady” has an energetic, talented and professional cast featuring numerous veteran actors and actresses with North County theater experience. Set designer Brian Redfern, set construction by Tony Cucazzella and scenic designer Rene Nielson created both an impressive London street set and Henry Higgin’s living room set, where most of the action of the musical takes place. All of this, along with a four piece orchestra, led by Justin Gray and musicians Mike Masessa on drums, Michael Tagart on strings and Amy Kalal on reeds, producing a wonderful sound, sounding much larger than only 4 musicians.

Photos by Ken Jacques

This classic musical is based on George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” During his lifetime, Shaw did not want his play turned into a musical. After his death, in 1950, the play was written as a book, with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, who was asked to write a musical adaptation of the play. Music was written by Frederick Loewe and the rest is Broadway Theatre history. The musical ran for 2,717 performances on Broadway, before moving to London. Rex Harrison starred in the lead role of Henry Higgins and a young, 20 year old Julie Andrews would set the standard for the Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle. Harrison had never sung in a musical before. The original Higgins offer had gone to Noel Coward, who turned it down but suggested Harrison for the role. Eliza’s role was originally offered to Mary Martin, who had had success playing “Peter Pan” on stage. The musical would go on to win Tony awards for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor, Best Direction, Best Scenic Design, Best Costume Design and Best Conductor and Musical Director. The record album from the musical would also become the best-selling album for 1956.

The casting for the leads in Welk Theatre’s “My Fair Lady” could not have been any better. In the role of Professor Henry Higgins was Lance Arthur Smith, veteran of multiple theatre performances around San Diego County and a play writer as well. Mr. Smith’s energy and stage presence was evident as the eccentric, pompous, arrogant phoneticist as he moved around the stage expressively showing enthusiasm, anger, humor and sadness with both his speaking and singing voice as well as his large expressive body movements. Smith was impressive in singing “I’m an Ordinary Man”, “Hymn to Him”, and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, as well as “The Rain in Spain”, sung with both Eliza and Pickering. The role of Higgins is hard enough when you figure in the quick paced language lessons he is trying to teach Eliza as the tries to teach her the majesty of the English language and the frustration he encounters.  The role of Eliza is played by Shaina Knox, who is making her Welk Theatre debut and she brings humor, wit, passion to the role of the Cockney flower girl who wants to change her status in life by becoming a lady. She mastered the difficult Cockney accent and a high pierced bellowing when things didn’t go her way. Knox has a powerful singing voice and does a beautiful interpretation of classic “My Fair Lady” numbers like, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”, “Just You Wait”, “I Could Have Danced all Night”, and “Show Me”. She also joined in with Higgins and Pickering in an energetic “The Rain in Spain”. The other member of the threesome involved in a bet as to whether or not Higgins can make the flower girl a lady is Pickering, played by Ralph Johnson, a veteran of Welk Theatre productions. He has performed in many San Diego County Theatre’s, including Vista’s Broadway Vista. Johnson plays off of Smith’s Higgins with ease and is a perfect fit for the part.

Another hit of this cast is Randall Hickman’s bigger than life presentation of Eliza’s dubious father, Doolittle. Hickman first performed at Welk theatre 24 years ago and has since established himself as one of the most notable actors in San Diego County. He recently had a standout performance as Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family” at Moonlight Amphitheatre and is a San Diego Critics Award winner for his performance as Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray”. As the conspiring, but lovable Doolittle, Hickman sings and dances to the audiences delight to the numbers, “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get me to the Church on Time”. The “My Fair Lady” ensemble joins Hickman in these numbers in entertaining dance routines. Hickman also gets a chance to show off his humorous interpretation of a Cockney accent as he plays one of the “undeserving poor up against the middle class morality”.  M Susan Peck delights the audience with her role of Mrs. Higgins, Higgins mother, with an over the top presentation of the aristocratic London member of high society and Susan Boland returns to the Welk playing Mrs. Pearce, Higgins head housekeeper. Also returning to the Welk, after performing in last seasons “Fiddler on the Roof”, is Ben Williams as Freddy, who falls in love with Eliza at the races, and gives a soulful performance of “On the Street Where You Live”.

This is another one of those musicals that everyone should see at least once in their musical theatre life. There are numerous memorable songs from this musical and the presentation of “My Fair Lady” at the Welk is a wonderful way to see this classical musical. The costuming, sets, dance routines and performances will bring back wonderful memories for those that have seen the musical before and for first time attendees, you are in for a fun, entertaining musical treat. The musical runs until April 2nd at the Welk Resort Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at www.welkresorts.com/sandiego/theatre. For those interested, there are several options for dinner or lunch at the resort. Next up at the Welk is “The Man Who Came to Dinner”, produced by Broadway Vista Theatre (co-owned by Douglas Davis and Randall Hickman), beginning April 7th. Randall Hickman will star as Sheridan Whiteside. Welk Theatre will present the classic musical, “Music Man”, beginning May 5th.


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