Theatre Review: “My Fair Lady” at Footlite Musicals

"Sunday Lunch" photo by Never Cool in School

Last night I drove to the near north side of Indianapolis to see Footlite Musicals’ production of “My Fair Lady.”  It was directed by R. Brian Noffke, produced by Debbie Noffke, and vocal directed by John Sparkman.

Footlite is an all-volunteer community theatre and a member of the Encore Association, so because I was an Encore judge all last year, I wasn’t able to write about any of the shows I saw there last season.  It feels good to be writing about a Footlite show again.

It felt even better last night to be seeing a stage production of “My Fair Lady.”  Footlite’s production is thoroughly charming.

I don’t think I had ever seen a stage version of “My Fair Lady” before.  The book and lyrics are by Alan Jay Lerner, the music by Frederick Lowe.  I must have seen the 1964 movie version that starred Audrey Hepburn a long time ago, though, because, to my surprise, I recognized many of the songs.  I sing “I Could Have Danced All Night” through toothpaste to the bathroom mirror after every time I’ve had an exhilarating evening!  A quick Internet search told me that Julie Andrews originated the starring role for Broadway in 1956.  I wish I could have seen that, too.

However, Footlite’s Emily Rose is uniquely delightful as the grubby and uneducated – but not stupid – flower seller, Eliza Doolittle.  Roger Schmelzer is very convincing as the handsome but disgustingly arrogant linguist, Henry Higgins, who agrees to take Eliza from the London streets and transform her into a lady “simply” by teaching her to speak English differently.

But who really transforms who?  By the end of the show, Eliza is definitely more polished but still feisty.  And Henry… well, Henry still has a long way to go towards becoming a grown-up, but he has at least opened his heart to love a bit.  Both Eliza’s dramatic, surface transformation and Henry’s subtle, internal transformation are satisfying to watch.

The three main supporting players in this piece are quite strong, too, and each funny in his own way.  Bernard Wurger gives advisor and friend, Col. Pickering, an appealing mix of British reserve and warmth.  I wanted to hug him.  Mark Fishback gives Eliza’s rummy father, Alfred P. Doolittle, an energetic mix of modesty and laziness that made me laugh out loud.  And Trevor Fanning as the gob-smacked stalker, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, singing “On the Street Where You Live” made me swoon right into a puddle on the floor even as I was laughing sympathetically at his well-bred yearning.

Everyone’s various British accents sound authentic, at least to me.  More importantly, they are consistent throughout the show, so they enhance rather than distract.  Eliza’s accent is consistent even as it changes, if that makes sense.

Strong Design Elements, Too, For the Most Part

Costume designer Stephen Hollenbeck has out-done himself with the gowns, suits, servant uniforms, hats (the HATS!) and other costumes for this show.  Murmurs ran through the audience last night when the lights came up on the gathering of society people wearing the stunning, glittering, all black and white outfits that he designed for the snooty scene at the Ascot Races.  I admired his attention to detail in every other scene as well.  The gajillion silver discs on the Buskers’ outfits fascinated me.  I think they spelled out “Lambeth Pearly Queen” which must have been the name of the theatre that the Buskers were trying to advertise, but I didn’t try too hard to read the words because I was enjoying the antics of the Buskers themselves, played by Caroline Nauth and Jay Hemphill.

The set, designed and lit by director R. Brian Noffke, is flexible and lovely.  Henry Higgins’ comfy, book-filled, two-story library has a nifty spiral staircase and elegant furniture pieces that apparently are stronger than they look because everyone dances on them gleefully without mishap.  (Choreography by Caroline Nauth.)  I was also intrigued by the complicated-looking, three-horned recording device and the delectable tiered candy dish.  Carol Kirk is the properties mistress.  Tom Noffke was the technical director and master carpenter.  Amanda Lane is the stage manager.

I enjoyed all of the singing very much but also, the amplification of the singing and speaking was the best I’d ever heard at Footlite.  In fact, I wondered if the theatre had gotten a new sound system since the last time I’d been there.  I could always hear everyone clearly last night.  There were no crackles, fades, or shrieks, even when the “power voices” were singing their solos.  Also, the orchestra under the stage, conducted by Deb Farmer, was present but never over-powered anyone.  My only quibble was that sometimes when groups of people were singing, some people’s microphones were turned up higher than others, I think.  Anyway, they sounded out of balance with each other in terms of volume.  But, as I say, the sound as a whole was the best I’d ever heard at Footlite.  It was a pleasure to listen to.

Strong Supporting Cast

Peg Arbuckle plays Henry Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce.  Adrienne Reiswerg is regal and kind as Henry Higgins’ mother.  The several other people who play small but essential parts and/or who sing and dance in the Ensemble all do a good job, too.  The overall feeling, even this early in the run, is one of cohesiveness.   That is a treat, too.

I mentioned “The Ascot Gavote” earlier.  I also especially loved the number in which the exhausted servants are all begging Henry Higgins to give up his foolish project.  It is a hoot.

Box Office and Other Advice

Footlite Musicals is in the Hedback Theatre building along with the Epilogue Players at 1847 N. Alabama Street.  There is free parking on the street or in a parking lot behind the building.  Call 317-926-6630 to make a reservation for Footlite.

Be sure to arrive EARLY so that you can a) pick up your tickets in the lobby, b) maybe buy a flower or two to be delivered to someone back stage and c) find your seat inside the theatre space itself in time to hear one of the organists playing catchy show tunes on the huge house organ before the show.

“My Fair Lady” runs through October 4, 2009.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com or @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com

11 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “My Fair Lady” at Footlite Musicals”

  1. Hope,

    I am so happy to see you once again review community theater! As a member of the ensemble in this show, thank you for your kind remarks! So glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Thanks for seeing the show. a side note. When I worked at Costume world we bought Dodger costume in new york. upon opening one of the boxes i found all of Julie Andrews costumes form the orginal my Fair Lady. The Embassy dress was in tatters but truly a work of art. The Rain in Spain skirt was still usable as was the purse she carried in Ascot. Although the Ascot dress was not usable he was still in good enough shape to see how it was constucted. It was a privilage and honor to touch such pieces of Musical Theatre History BTW Curt Pickard designed most the hats for Ascot

  3. How was the sound? I stopped going to Footlite two years ago because I got tired of never being able to hear the darn show. Numerous suggestions from those “in the know” regarding seating selection were to no avail. I vowed not to return until the problem was fixed. That’s a shame too, because I organized a Saturday theatre group that would bring between 10-15 people there. Now, we go elsewhere.

  4. Oh geez, you devoted an entire paragraph to my question! Darn scroll on my mouse!

    Thanks for catching the issue.

    I am still going to wait a couple of more shows to see that the problem is in fact fixed.

  5. Hope,

    Thank you for your great review! I can’t believe I didn’t get to see you after the show. Thanks for swooning…

    I saw a show on tv the other night with James Spader and thought of you. He wasn’t wearing leather…but…

    Thanks for speading the word about our show. We are having a great time – and loving every minute of it! Glad the audiences are too!

  6. Hi there.
    Wanted to let you know a bit about London culture. 🙂

    A Pearly King (and Queen) is a person dressed in traditional cockney costume attired with mother of pearl buttons. Each district of London had its own “king” and “queen”. Lambeth is one of London’s districts.

    -Rebecca

  7. Hope, so glad you enjoyed our show. We are having a real ball with it. Brian is such a good director and all our staff and cast are great. Aren’t those costumes the greatest! It is such fun to “dress-up”

    Sue (ensemble)

  8. Thank you, everyone, for reading and commenting!

    Stephen, how cool that you got to examine Julie Andrews’ costumes up close! Also, please tell Curt that his hats for this show are magnificent!

    Charles: the sound was definitely, noticeably (sp?) improved.

    Trevor: swooning AND melting, baby. Swooning and melting.

    Rebecca: Thank you! I did not know ANY of that information about London culture, and find it very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to write and share it!

    Sue: I always enjoy chatting with you when you’re ushering at theatres around town, so it was a special delight to see you up on stage! Break a leg with the rest of your run.

  9. The Lambeth King and Queen make an appearance in the show “Me and My Girl” as well.

    Also, the Pearlies appear in animated form in “Mary Poppins”– they’re in the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” song.

  10. “Mary Poppins!” I think that was the first movie I ever saw in my life. That, or “Winnie the Pooh.” Anyway, what a fun excuse to revisit it.

    Thanks again, Rebecca!

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