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Dual success

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‘My Fair Lady’
Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
Robinson Center
Feb. 10

Last Friday and Saturday night, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and actors from the Arkansas Repertory Theatre came together with the UALR Concert Choir for a special, semi-staged performance of long-time classic My Fair Lady. For those of us that grew up on the mother’s milk that is the 1964 film with Audrey Hepburn, this particular staging offered a refreshing and sometimes post-modern twist on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

Broadway actors Catherine LaValle and Samuel Maupin starred as Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins, and while LaValle’s cockney accent was subtly lacking and Maupin’s early delivery of Higgins’ humor fell flat, the production picked up steam as the musical numbers ran on and self-corrected the relatively minor flaws. In Maupin’s defense, playing any exaggerated caricature can prove tricky, perhaps moreso when the caricature is of an apparently unemotional academic automaton. As the professor’s character took on more human traits through the course of “Lady,” so too did Maupin’s acting improve, offering a more believable and satisfying presence on stage.

As for the post-modern element of this particular staging of the musical, a bit of self-conscious humor was interjected from time to time as symphonic conductor David Itkin interacted with the performers at various intervals and theatrically turned head-over-shoulder to observe the events going on just a few feet behind him. This mindful acknowledgement of the semi-staged and therefore prop sparse nature of the production was humorous and successfully reminded the audience of the dual spirit of the performance.

While other musicals might have a pit that the orchestra hides away in to invisibly create the music that makes a show, this performance’s staging gracefully reminded us that it is a combination of all elements that forms the theater’s magic. For bringing yet another spark of humor and freshness to an already very funny musical, a huge thanks to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and the Rep.

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