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Theatre review: My Fair Lady at Long Beach Playhouse

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Photo by Michael Hardy Photography
Lisa J. Salas (Mrs. Pearce), Nori T. Schmidt (Eliza Doolittle) and Lawrence Ingalls (Professor Henry Higgins)

Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw play that premiered to the public in 1913, was at one time deemed an impossible candidate for being made into a musical. Those who first attempted to do so determined that it lacked a love story and subplot and that it would be too difficult to incorporate an ensemble into the narrative of a Cockney-speaking flower girl who undergoes a transformation under the guidance of a phonetics professor.

However, lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe not only eventually achieved the seemingly impossible, but their My Fair Lady would go on to be considered one of the greatest musicals ever made.

Last week, Long Beach Playhouse continued the long tradition of producing the musical, now in a five-week run on its main stage.

Nori T. Schmidt, in what she says is her dream role, plays Eliza Doolittle, the young woman who seeks diction lessons from Professor Henry Higgins but unwittingly becomes the object of his goal to transform her into a sophisticate who can pass as a duchess. There’s a joy in watching an actor play the part of their dreams, and Schmidt delights as Miss Doolittle, rising to the challenge of speaking not only the Cockney dialect but then also the more refined British accent.

Lawrence Ingalls is equally effective in his role of Higgins, as is Michael Kaye as Colonel Pickering, another language enthusiast who assists Higgins in his endeavor and helps to serve as a moral compass when Higgins seems to lose sight of the fact that Eliza is a human being with emotions. Watching the professor handle Eliza in such a brusque manner and– at least initially– be dismissive of her as though she’s a stray dog is almost shocking. But, of course, well written characters need their arcs, and Higgins likewise needs a place from which to grow.

The aforementioned ensemble cast– requiring a bit of range collectively– bring to life the other disheveled street vendors as well as those of upper-crust society. In large ensembles such as this one, it is sometimes easy to find a “weak link” or two within the group. However, the cast here is strong across the board.

Particularly enjoyable– and fittingly so– are the cast’s vocal abilities, and the scenes in which they harmonize were among my favorites.

My Fair Lady continues on the Long Beach Playhouse’s main stage through Aug. 4. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. The Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. For ticket information, visit lbplayhouse.org or call (562) 494-1014.

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Theatre review: My Fair Lady at Long Beach Playhouse