ELIZA DOOLITTLE AND HENRY HIGGINS BRING OLD LONDON BACK TO THE CCCT WITH A LOVERLY ‘PERFECT MUSICAL’
There is no better way to start your fall season of 2016 theatre here in the Bay Area than with a little “Loverly” and CCCT’s current production of MY FAIR LADY. Contra Costa Civic Theatre celebrates the opening of their 57th season with Eliza and Professor Higgins who also celebrate their 60th anniversary. MY FAIR LADY is now on the Fynn stage at CCCT through October 9th. This will mark the third time the El Cerrito venue has staged this icon musical, and the charm of 1912 London is back and marvelous. The show sparkles with talent and excellent performances under the keen direction of Daren A.C. Carollo. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s iconic play, PYGMALION, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s musical about Eliza Doolittle has been billed as the “perfect musical”. The story of a cockney flower girl Eliza, who learns the proper way to speak English by Professor Henry Higgins. It won six Tonys, setting a Broadway record for a long run and, of course, the memorable film version with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn that won Ten Oscars.
Elegantly directed by Carollo it is a bright new look at MY FAIR LADY. The vibrant Rebecca Davis as Eliza has a wonderful voice and she is grand in “I Could have Danced All Night”. Her father, Alfred Doolittle, played by Peter Budinger is perfect, his “Get Me To The Church On Time” is a second act show stopper and is one of the highlights of the show. Choreographed by Allison Paraiso she kept the cast busy in the main dance numbers “Church” and “With a Little Bit of Luck”; the choreography is much in the spirit of English music halls and the steps are impressively executed by the six member ensemble.
The marvelous local favorite D.C.Scarpelli is cast as the infamous perfectionist, Henry Higgins, he provides a fresh look at the man who would change Eliza. He has a great character arc that starts with courtesy, then becomes distant and uncaring to the final act where he performs the classic “I Have Grown Accustomed to Her Face”. Scarpelli has the perfect acting voice for his Higgins with a range of emotions that makes him more intimidating in his arrogance but sincere in his great love of language and his honest concern for Eliza. His stage sophistication as the domineering teacher that in the end is captured by his dear Eliza. Scarpelli is one of the best reasons to see this MY FAIR LADY. He is the classic Higgins and dressed in Lisa Danz costumes he is a charming lead who drives this musical.
Director Carollo has kept his cast small with 14 impressive actors and Frederick Loewe’s score is performed on two grand pianos by musical director Greg Zema with Grace Renaud, Kenji Higashihama and Christopher Hewitt at alternate performances and who face each other on stage. Kuo-Hao Lo’s set design easily sets the grand pianos on stage with a clever set that takes us from the gritty streets of London to Higgins’ studio with ease. Lo’s sets are always charming and authentic, his second level steps add a grand look to the Higgins study. Danz’s rich costumes keep the two men elegant and the street characters full of London's appeal. As Eliza look changes to beautiful gowns, Danz design for her “The Embassy Waltz” and “You Did It” are graceful and noble.
The excellent Rebecca Davis is Eliza Doolittle and she a is believable, energetic and spunky Eliza - capable of taking over Higgins' study in "Just You Wait" and creating a consistent character through Eliza's transformation from flower girl to lady. Davis’ stunning voice sends Eliza’s classic songs soaring out the Flynn Theatre’s sold out audience, and her timing skills show the feisty young women seeking a better life; it is a demanding role for any actress. Davis does at times out shine her male leads but that makes for great dynamics. Scarpelli and Davis both have a huge dose of talent and wit in their performances, as they are both heartwarming in “Without You”.
The supporting cast is just as talented, the dapper Jack Sale warms your heart as Freddy, the young man who falls for Eliza. Sales sings “On the Street Where You Live” a knock out, his sense of joy an uncommon sweetness and beautiful voice is smooth. Ryan Weible brings the right amount of humor and care as Colonel Pickering. Mary Coleston as the maid, Mrs Pearce, has the perfect amount of compassion and charm. Her dry wit gets great laughs, and Shay Oglesby-Smith as a snooty lady from Ascot is a scene stealer. The glowing Ann Kendrick plays Higgins’ prudent mother and is graceful and witty as she scolds her arrogant son. Her performance captures all the hilarity of Mrs. Higgins' sharp wit as well as the warmth of her growing affection for Eliza. It is that type of a supporting role than provides ballast for the entire evening.
One of the iconic songs is the gem “The Rain In Spain” when Liza finally drops her cockney accent. Both Davis and Scarpelli are at their best and Carollo kept his cast in perfect cockney. The talented ensemble members who fill out the other many characters deserve mention: Loren Breidenbach, Harriet Hanauer, Jennifer Rodway, Sarah La Due, Christian McCooey and Jordan Smith.
MY FAIR LADY has a rich score by Frederick Loewe, and Music director Zema and his two grand pianos and his small but talented chorus give this show the “Loverly” it deserves. Courtney Johnson light design provides the London atmosphere and a bright look for Higgins’ study. I also admire Johnson’s use of back lighting that adds so much mood and color in her design. But Michael Kelly’s sound design does have its issues, with no mics on the cast some of their singing is lost until they come down stage. The leads all have brilliant voices that are at times lost up stage. The props by Devon LaBelle include some classic old gramophones and London umbrellas for the Ascot Waltz.
This “LADY” is stunning and is sure to be the best way to begin your fall theatre season. If you haven’t seen this musical in a few years - it is time to return to Prof. Higgins library and see this beautiful show. Contra Costa Civic Theatre is set for a choice 57th season including YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, that opens November 11th, WELL opens Feb 17, and in April the world premiere of THE LOST YEARS. The summer musical will complement HAMILTON'S National Tour as CCCT will close out their season with IN THE HEIGHTS. This is a fresh, innovative and delightful MY FAIR LADY that you will not want to miss. Get your seats now, they are not likely to be available later. More info below.
Contra Costa Civic Theatre Presents
MY FAIR LADY
Book Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe,
Directed by Daren A.C. Carollo, Music Director Greg Zema
Through October 9
Contra Costa Civic Theatre
951 Pomona Ave (cross street Moeser)
El Cerrito, CA 94530
2 hours 40 min one intermission
Tickets: $15-$35; 510-524-9012
Photos by Ben Krantz