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