Have a Whopper, Pull Out the Stopper, and Get to the Covedale‘s My Fair Lady on Time

Review by Jack Crumley of My Fair Lady: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

It’s the end of the season, and Tim Perrino & Co are going out on a high note. Featuring some of the best songs in American musical theatre history, My Fair Lady is easily the most ambitious production at Covedale Center for the Performing Arts this year.

My Fair Lady boasts one of the best Broadway pedigrees, ever. Originally a play by George Bernard Shaw, the show as a musical languished in development for years before Lerner and Loewe were able to adapt it properly. It’s the show Rex Harrison won his second Tony for and it’s also where a young Julie Andrews was discovered.

For Covedale audiences, Brent Alan Burington commands in the role of Henry Higgins, the brilliant-but-cold phonetics expert trying to train Eliza Doolittle to act and speak like a woman of high society. Sarah Viola returns to the Covedale stage as Eliza, and brings not only her elegant, powerful singing voice, but also her raucous, Cockney-accented shrieks. Higgins’ cohort and the source of Doolittle’s moral support is Colonel Pickering, played by Gregory Bossler. His good-natured demeanor and solid comedic timing are a perfect balance for Higgins’ all-consuming drive and lack of social grace.

As strong as the lead actors are, the entire cast deserves credit for how well they work together. It’s only fitting that a show about the beauty and power of the spoken word features a cast with such extraordinary voices. Burington, Viola, and Bossler each have a unique tone, but they all blend very well with the ensemble members of the cast during group numbers like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” and “You Did It.” The ensemble should be praised for all playing charming, unique background characters that never go so far as to steal interest away from the main action.

Special recognition goes to Matt Dentino. No one is having more fun than he is playing Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle. He’s a pleasure to watch cut loose singing “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time,” and he steals every scene he’s in.

A somewhat regular issue at Covedale can be the acoustics, but there were no problems with sound whatsoever on My Fair Lady’s opening night. Every cast member could be understood, whether they had a microphone or not. It’s an impressive feat given the sheer volume of dialogue and lyrics the cast members have to deliver. Burington’s Higgins has the lion’s share, and he handled it all quite confidently. Viola has the task of both speaking and singing in multiple accents over the course of the show, and it was fun to hear how she transformed her voice from an obnoxious, ignorant flower girl into a classy, self-assured woman. The live band led by Xan Jeffery is a welcome addition for this show as well. Again, the sound quality was great and there was never a time when the words were drowned out.

Covedale’s My Fair Lady is impressive beyond the cast and how eloquently they speak and sing. Brett Bowling’s set is his best work of the year. The pieces and flats that take the audience to the streets of Edwardian London look almost like 3D pencil sketches. They give the stage a storybook feel, and it helps focus attention on the actors. There’s a great contrast when we travel inside the home of Henry Higgins. Two of the side set pieces rotate and the flats slide open to reveal a more detail-oriented space. From the extensive bookshelves to the complicated, practically steampunk-style audio equipment, it’s like stepping inside Higgins’ head. Another rotation and the addition of some trellises turn the stage into opening day at the Ascot Gavotte. The set for the embassy ball at the end of Act I isn’t extremely opulent, but one of the rotating set pieces has a staircase that impressively slides out and into place for Eliza to descend and command the room.

Also to be praised is the costume work by Caren Young and Heather McKernan. The tan suit that Higgins wears for most of the show is spot on. Eliza’s flower girl dress is obviously reminiscent of what Audrey Hepburn wore in the film, and her dress at the Ascot is stunning. The ensemble cast has to switch looks from poor laborers to butlers and maids to high society, and none of their looks ever felt out of place.

There was no one in the audience left wanting by the end. This production is sponsored by Arnold and Mary Jo Barnett, and they were in attendance on opening night. Within seconds of the start of curtain call, they were both on their feet, and the rest of the audience soon followed. I’ve spent the 2017 season sitting next to the same group of three ladies, regular season ticket holders. They all agreed that Covedale saved the best for last.

My Fair Lady plays Thursdays through Sundays until May 21. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

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