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They’re doing it

And without a lull.

“My Fair Lady” Sept. 10 Arkansas Repertory Theatre If you are of a vintage to have wallowed in recordings of “My Fair Lady” or lucky enough to have seen Pygmalion-inspired musical on the stage, you may find the Rep’s scaled-back production of what is probably the wittiest musical comedy ever made wanting. When Rex Harrison spoke — his inability to sing only made the whole thing better — no superbly funny phrase was swallowed. So when Professor Henry Higgins rhymes “Budapest” with “ruder pest” and observes that “Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of summer lighting and the Hebrews learn it backward, which is absolutely frightening,” the audience should rightly find themselves in fits. But we didn’t get a chance on opening night at the Rep, things were moving at such a clip, and many smart and hilarious lines evaporated into thin air. But chalk the rush up to opening night jitters and a moody sound system to fate. In all the cast, directed by Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker, was first-rate, their voices superb and the dynamics in the choreographed numbers spot on — they could have danced all night. Catherine LaValle (Eliza Doolittle), a redheaded beauty who at some angles resembles Katharine Hepburn, can belt it out and like Rep regular Candyce Hinkle — who can do no wrong and proves it again in this production in several roles — is sure of herself, and so was the audience. Though he’s less devilish around the eyes, Joseph Graves looks the part of Professor Higgins and, on opening night, hit his full stride at last in his closing number “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” He might have hit it earlier, but the pianists — perhaps equally jittery, and miked unequally — played the first act pieces like marches, requiring poor Professor Higgins to sing, for example, that’s he’s an ordinary man “who LIKES an ATmosPHERE as RESTful AS an UNdisCOVered TOMB.” The audience roared its approval of Gary Marachek as the Eliza’s lusty, no-good drunken father; we could have used fewer naughty tongue-flicks ourselves. Talk about stage presence: Robert Koutras (Eliza’s suitor Freddy Eynford-Hill) stole the show with a face that malleably matched his love song lyrics, a liquid posture and a terrific voice twice as big as the actor himself. He didn’t need his mike at all — and he certainly didn’t need it so far past his ear it looked like a receptionist’s headset. But, as we said, it was opening night. Dump the mikes and add a little rubato to the music, and the Rep’s got itself another winner with “My Fair Lady.” The play runs Wednesday to Sunday through Oct. 10. Tickets are $35. Call 378-0405.

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