My Fair Lady at the Rubicon
by James Spencer and Shirley Lorraine
Famed English playwright George Bernard Shaw premiered a play in 1913 about an egotistical professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins, who wagers he can pass off an uneducated flower girl as a duchess simply by teaching her to speak correctly. He selects a subject and along the way reluctantly finds he has fallen in love with his creation. Shaw titled his play Pygmalion, after the sculptor in Greek mythology who fell in love with a statute he carved.
Decades later, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe adapted Shaw’s tale and turned it into the 1956 blockbuster musical, My Fair Lady.
This enchanting story with its memorable score now graces the stage of Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre Company seven times a week through November 15.
The direction by Rubicon co-founder James O’Neil is fresh and vibrant as he presents the action in an engaging story-telling style with staging perfectly suited to the Rubicon’s specialized performance space.
Central to the story is the character of Professor Henry Higgins, played by multi-award winning actor Joseph Fuqua. Professor Higgins is often described as being annoyingly boorish. While Fuqua portrays Higgins as self-absorbed and inconsiderate, the traits arise from his social obtuseness, rather than innate churlishness. The result is a deep and rich characterization .
The title role of Eliza Doolittle is performed by Kimberly Hessler, who provides Eliza with all the savvy and vulnerability demanded by the part. Rubicon’s Producing Artistic Director Karyl Lynn Burns calls Hessler “one of the finest voices I have ever heard – a pure, true effortless soprano…” We could not agree more. Her entire performance is precise, engaging, powerful, as well as vocally pristine. She’s just spot on.
Everyone in the 17-member cast gives a balanced performance. Most handle several roles ranging from household staff members to aristocrats. Memorable performances are also turned in by Patrick DeSantis and Susan Denaker as, respectively, Eliza’s father and Higgins’ mother.
The score is performed on two baby grand pianos located on stage adjacent to the grand staircase that is the main set piece. The all-important musical director is Lloyd Cooper, who performs on one piano and Chris Kimbler plays the second.
Rubicon’s hallmark attention to detail heightens the experience. The costumes, hairstyles and special effects are exquisitely showcased during a scene where sumptiously clad aristocrats gather for opening race day at Ascot. Even the stage hands, who enter only during partial black outs to efficiently change set pieces, are costumed as Edwardian butlers in tails. During the race sequence, the thundering pack of horses can be heard moving across the back of the theatre in an enjoyable demonstration of surround sound techniques in a live theatre setting.
In short, My Fair Lady turns out to be grand.
My Fair Lady plays until November 15, 2015. Show times: Wednesday – 2 & 7 p.m.; Thursdays & Fridays – 8 p.m.; Saturdays – 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays – 2 p.m. Talk backs follow at Wednesday evening shows. Rubicon Theatre Company, 1006 E. Main Street, Ventura, CA, 93001. Tickets – $54.00 – $64.00. Ticketing and seat selection available 24/7 at www.rubicon.theatre.org. 667-2900.