‘My Fair Lady’
July 22, Weekend Theater
“My Fair Lady” is an old-fashioned Broadway musical that, by all rights, must be a devilish work to stage. It has accents! It has costumes! It has complicated set changes (from a horse track to a fancy ball to a book-filled flat)!
The fact that The Weekend Theater, the seemingly indefatigable troupe of volunteers, is putting “My Fair Lady” on stage — and in July no less — is a testament to how deeply the group loves theater. There are probably few theaters in country — professional or otherwise — who do what this company does, both in the diversity of works selected and number of shows done in a year. It is easy to take The Weekend Theater for granted.
What The Weekend Theater’s “My Fair Lady” lacks in professional polish, it makes up for in energy. The production, directed by Allison Pace, is blessed with a striking performance of Eliza Doolittle by Memory Apata, a junior at UALR. But it would seem that the true star here can be found off stage, in the person of musical director Lori Isner, who seems to pull out wonderful vocal performances from practically the entire cast. This being The Weekend Theater, the orchestra consists of a piano and a few other instruments, but you won’t leave this production feeling you’ve been cheated out of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s melodically rich score.
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” “My Fair Lady” is romantic comedy spiked with Shaw’s high-octane intelligence. “My Fair Lady” is able to squeeze in complicated talk of morals and phonetics, but mostly this is about strident old bachelor Henry Higgins (Ralph Hyman) reforming the “gutter-snipe” Doolittle before falling for her. All of that is really just a pleasant excuse to hear “On the Street Where You Live” and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and the rest.
Apata makes for a striking Eliza. She has a clear voice that fills the room and a calm presence that makes you want to watch her. Perhaps she could come across a little more feral and rough in her opening scenes, but she remains in control throughout. As Higgins, Hyman has the timing and the bearing of the imperious professor. But Hyman, who sometimes can’t break out of repeated vocal patterns, has a hard time showing the surprise needed when he realizes that he doesn’t just want Doolittle around as a student. John C. Thompson as old schemer Alfred P. Doolittle bounces and brags with spirit and verve to spare.
The entire cast of 17 is adroitly maneuvered about The Weekend Theater’s postage stamp-sized stage. The set changes are done in fairly efficient manner and the costumes are pretty to look at on what must have been a nonexistent budget. But “My Fair Lady” would tax the resources of the richest theater. One wishes that The Weekend Theater wouldn’t even try to play that game — perhaps staging a whole big musical such as this with no costumes but a few hats and no set but a few chairs.
However, you certainly can’t say The Weekend Theater is skimping on its approach. They do their best to scale Lerner and Loewe’s big mountain of a musical and any audience that understands the rigors of theater —and should — appreciate that.