In 1956, the juggernaut musical “My Fair Lady” opened on Broadway. It is a musical based upon George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Unless you have been living under a theatrical rock, you know that Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews graced the original story that follows Eliza Doolittle (gracious Kayce Cummings* (Green)), a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from Professor Henry Higgins (dynamic Greg Violand*), as a result of a bet with Colonel Pickering (lovable Geoff Stephenson*), that she may pass as a lady at an Embassy Ball. The journey is what “My Fair Lady” is all about, and of course, some memorable characters along the way. My Fair Lady hit a more universal audience when the film production featured Audrey Hepburn as Eliza.
Porthouse Theatre, under the expedient direction of Artistic Director Terri Kent *^, serves up a fine rendition of this classic. Cummings is a classic beauty as Eliza. She comes on stage as a snarky street urchin ready to take on the world with a heart of gold. Her brash physicality was solid, but I didn’t notice any dirt on her face, even though her clothes were certainly downtrodden. Must have been her flower selling technique “Would this face lie to ya?” Cummings is a joy to watch throughout this production, and watching her sneak a chocolate is priceless. Personally, I like a more soprano like quality to Eliza’s voice, but Cummings is a powerful theatrical force of nature and sold it well.
Greg Violand knocked the role of Professor Henry Higgins out of the park. It was a solid, textured, comedic, and charmingly executed portrayal. Every time he would yell or get flustered, it cracked me up. What a beautiful marriage of a role and an actor that was firing on all cylinders. I could write an entire paragraph about “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face. “ He cuts a fine handsome figure that the audience couldn’t resist, and happily reciprocated by providing an evening of uninterrupted magic.
Charm and a lovable presence was in full bloom with Geoff Stephenson* as Colonel Pickering. As Higgins sidekick, Stephenson kept Pickering affable, likable and engaging the whole performance. Elliot Litherland could have rented the Megabus, and taken home every woman in the theatre. His charisma meter was off the charts as a result of a beautiful voice, and an honest, sweet, and touching rendition of “On The Street Where You Live”. Lissy Gulick is adorable as Mrs. Pierce, as she keeps 27-A Wimpole Street organized, but also, displays no fear in sharing her “opinion.” As Alfred P. Doolittle, Porthouse veteran Rohn Thomas* cuts of fine disheveled figure, bringing debauchery to a new level of “oh no, he didn’t.” I would have preferred him a little more inebriated throughout, but, he overcomes that by being charming as heck. Darian Lunsford and Dylan Ratell, Jamie and Harry, make appropriate sidekicks and pseudo body beer guards to Doolittle.
The Quartet (Daniel Lindenberger, Ratell, Connor Simpson, Christopher Tuck) sparkled with lush harmonies, however, at times it seemed they were were not loud enough to enjoy their vocal work. The Servants’ Chorus (Lucy Anders, Jessica Benson, Grace Falasco, Miriam Henkel-Moellmann, Linderberger, and Simpson) delivered strong vocals, and Falasco delivered great face. Speaking of face, Lunsford kills it at the Ascot Gavotte, throwing more shade then RuPaul on a long weekend.
All of these wonderful actors, including ensemble member Mackenzie Duan, are decked out to the nines and appropriate fabulousness in costumes designed by S.Q. Campell. I thoroughly enjoyed the visual parade.
One of the excitements of this lush musical, is the orchestration. Hearing the sweeping sounds that illuminate the score can elevate an audience to heights unimagined. With this production, Porthouse Musical Director Jonathan Swoboda has opted for two pianos (Second pianist, accomplished Melissa Fucci), instead of a full or abridged orchestra. With the exception of one flute, the result is an under fulfilled score. However, if you are not married to a full pit of musicians, the piano becomes powerful in its own right, and services this compact production quite well. This is accomplished by the exquisite skill of Swoboda, and the assist from Fucci.
There were some distractions in the production. Because of the set design (Ben Needham), dancers and actors had to continually navigate the checkerboard floor plan, with heightened sections that kept dancers and actors precariously close to platforms edges throughout the night. You can’t help but worry that some may step off and fall. The set design was very functional and effective, but the unevenness was the price you paid. As a result, the choreography (John R. Crawford) seemed very efficient, instead of raucous numbers that should have electrified the stage. The pace of the show is brisk, and many smaller important emotional moments are lost. This culminates at the end, when a longer moment is used to close the show, and it almost becomes awkward. On a personal note, I love the role of Mrs. Higgins. The character is fierce and has one of the greatest exit lines ever. Director Kent certainly knows her audience, which certainly affected casting the role with a Porthouse treasure in drag. But, I prefer the original, emanating warmth and biting clarity when needed most. I guess I need to loosen up.
Tech staff was on point. Lighting Designer T.C. Kouyeas, Jr., Sound Designer Brian Chismar, Assistant Director Jerimie Newcomb, Production Stage Manager Derric Nolte* called a great show, and Technical Director Steve Pauna.
Porthouse is a summer theatrical treasure, but not an appetite suppressant. Said Kevin after 3 hot dogs, a soft pretzel and 2 diet cokes. Enjoy!
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers.
^Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, a national theatrical labor union.
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$17-$38 Reserved Seating
Blossom Music Center
1145 W Steels Corners Rd
Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44223