By Punch Pulse Correspondent Lindsey Clark
We all know the story of George Bernard Shaw’s classic play, Pygmalion – that of the ordinary flower girl from the wrong side of the tracks transformed into an aristocratic lady with the help of a good diction coach, lessons in manners, and a new wardrobe. Staged by Creative Director, Molly Smith, Arena Stage’s My Fair Lady brings a fun and fresh look at the musical based on Shaw’s 1912 play. As a huge fan of the film (starring the incomparable Audrey Hepburn), I had high expectations of the play – would the costumes be up to par, would the actors convincingly pull off the almost incomprehensible Cockney accents, would seeing it on the stage live up to the memories I have of watching the film over and over as a child?Â I am no theater snob, but for a play like this that holds such a place in my heart, I went into it thinking, this had better be good.
I was not disappointed.Â From the moment she took the stage, Manna Nichols had me convinced that she was Eliza Doolittle.Â It is no small feat to master such a difficult accent, and her delivery gave even the Cockney dialect a sense of grace and seemed to subtly hint at the lady that Ms. Doolittle was all along.Â Eliza, who makes her living selling flowers to those that can afford such a luxury, goes from working class to upper class when she meets Professor Henry Higgins (played by a fantastic Benedict Campbell), a linguist on a mission to win a bet that he can pass her off as a lady in England’s high society circles.
Performed on the Arena’s Fichandler Stage, the production makes the most of a relatively small space, and as a play performed in the round, the audience is all but a part of the show – an experience that certainly one-upped simply watching the film at home on my couch.Â Though light-hearted and often funny, the play also touches on the extreme division of class where the poor are very poor and the rich are very rich, and despite her place on the social ladder, Eliza defiantly insists that she be treated like the lady that Professor Higgins sets out to make her.Â This proves to be a serious challenge to a man who sees her as nothing more than an experiment until the moment that he realizes that in the process of transforming Eliza Doolittle, Eliza Doolittle has transformed him in return.
I have to admit, I know musical theater is not for everyone, but Arena’s production of My Fair Lady could probably convert even the biggest skeptic.Â The cast, the choreography, the costumes – everything lived up to my expectations…and then some.Â The play, which runs through January 6, will leave you feeling like you could have danced all night.Â (I know you know that song.Â Don’t act like you don’t.)
As the Punch Premiere Correspondent, Lindsey covers all things music and theater related. When not writing for Pamela’s Punch, Lindsey has a seriously sweet gig as Executive Assistant at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov). Aside from writing and seeing as much live music as possible, you can usually find her on a running trail, in front of a painting, staring at her dog, Lincoln, or hanging out with her big sister and fellow Punch Correspondent Niki Clark. Follow her on twitter @lindseykayclark. Contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.