Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Doolittle and Company Do A Lot at Broadway Rose


By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
My Fair Lady is indisputably one of the best English language musicals ever written – not surprising given its Shavian antecedents. Story aside, the music has permeated our culture for over 50 years, and even people who have never seen it on stage or screen are likely to recognize such enduring songs as “On the Street Where You Live” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.”

Because it is a long, complex endeavor that demands an exacting blend of singing, dancing, acting (oh, those English accents!) and multiple elaborate sets, the show is not performed as often as it deserves to be. It’s bloomin’ loverly that Broadway Rose has the financial backing, theater, talent base, organizational structure, orchestra and community support to pull it off with such aplomb.

Jazmin Gorsline as Eliza Doolittle.
As with the songs, most theater lovers are familiar with the story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower seller plucked from the gutter by misogynist Henry Higgins and his linguist colleague, Col. Pickering.  Higgins’ boastful claim is that he will, in six months, transform Eliza’s dreadful diction and syntax so dramatically that he can pass her off as at least a duchess or, even more demanding, a lady’s maid.

Actor Kevin Connell skillfully navigates the tricky waters of Henry Higgins’ less-than-loveable personality.  He is loud, self-centered, supercilious, and pedantic but still displays moments of charm that allow us to partially overlook his multitudinous character flaws – in part on the strength of his singing. Darius Pierce (Col. Pickering) serves as a compelling sounding board – perhaps as brilliant as his colleague, but a much nicer fellow. His performance is gently effective – he is Dr. Watson to Higgins’ Sherlock Holmes.

The object of all of this linguistic expertise, of course, is Eliza Doolittle – without a powerhouse Eliza, there is no show. Jazmin Gorsline, having played the role in three previous productions, brings a wealth of experience to her part – and it really shows. She is a superb vocalist, her accent(s) are unerring, even when the script calls for rapid-fire shifts, and she develops a captivating personality as the show progresses.

Broadway Rose mainstay Dan Murphy plays Eliza’s father, the irascibly philosophical Alfred P. Doolittle. Murphy displays remarkable vocal and terpsichorean agility in two demanding song and dance numbers, and the clanking tankards maneuver in “Get Me To the Church On Time” is a real showstopper. Henry Higgins’ mother, played with surgical precision by Pat Lach, gets the biggest laughs of the evening. Her accent, timing, and oh-so-veddy British demeanor mine every line for its full comic potential.

Blake Cranston portrays ingénue Freddy Eynsford-Hill as a deer in the headlights – so enamored of Eliza that he can’t think straight. His clear tenor voice gives poignancy to “On the Street Where You Live.” Housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, played by Paige Jones, serves as a confident and subtly spunky adversary, quietly defending Eliza from Higgins’ worst verbal and emotional abuse despite her “subservient” status.

As always, the Broadway Rose ensemble is excellent – time and again, group vocals build from small beginnings to powerful crescendos. Choreographer Jacob Toth has clearly worked his cast hard, and the dance numbers are sharply captivating. Music director Alan D. Lytle and his eleven-piece orchestra tackle the complex score with an enthusiastic precision that belies the troupe’s modest size.

As mentioned above, My Fair Lady is a long show – with intermission, this production runs about three hours. We are delighted that Director Sharon Maroney did not succumb to the temptation to trim the show or rush the pacing – she allows her actors the time to explore their characters and fully develop key scenes. It may be years before a top-notch production of My Fair Lady plays again in the metro area, and we strongly recommend that musical fans take advantage of the opportunity to see this marvelous show during this run.

The Broadway Rose production of My Fair Lady runs through Sunday, August 18th at the Deb Fennell Auditorium in Tigard.

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