A Mostly “Fair Lady” Opens Crighton Players New Season

I’ve seen many wonderful shows from the Crighton Players, but by the time intermission arrived, following Act One of their current production of “My Fair Lady,” I was pretty well convinced we had reached the realm of near-perfection. Of course I confess to certain prejudices. When I was a student at Peekskill High School (New York), I was selected for the lead role of Henry Higgins in “Pygmalion,” the wonderful George Bernard Shaw play on which Frederick Loewe (music), and Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics), based their classic and ever-popular musical version. Also, I am blessed to be a member of America’s oldest theatrical club, The Lambs in New York, where the late Lerner & Loewe were both proud members. To this day our club enjoys a generous bequest of a portion of the royalties every time their musical, “Brigadoon,” is performed. “My Fair Lady,” is considered by many to be Lerner and Loewe’s masterpiece, and Crighton certainly gives it the royal treatment under the skilled direction of Marty Craig.

In the lead roles, tall and lovely Scarlett Czarnopis (as Eliza, the cockney flower girl who wants to learn proper English), and handsome David Troth (as the coolly eccentric phonetics expert, Professor Henry Higgins) offer both wonderful voices and commanding stage presence to anchor the production. Higgins’ sidekick, Col. Pickering, is humorously played by Jim Heffner, who, if he does not qualify as a singing star, does bring a wonderfully rich deep voice for dialogue, and a perfect instinct for pomp and indignation, to the task of being an oft-needed foil for Higgins, as the two attempt to pass Eliza off as a member of the aristocracy. The merry trio is wonderful singing “The Rain in Spain,” and then Czarnopis hit’s a homerun with her exquisite, “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Her talent for comedy was abundant, especially in the scene where she describes her aunt’s untimely death. As the dustman, Eliza‘s conniving father, A.J. O’Pry should perhaps be renamed “Grand Old O’Pry” for his often hilarious performance as Mr. Doolittle. He sings well, and gets amusing help from fellow cast members, Creg Kelly, Gerald Livingston, and Mike Ragan, during such fine numbers as “Get Me To The Church On Time”.

Looking like a pleasant cross between Mrs. Santa Claus and Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Martha Davis is a total delight as Higgins’ cheerful housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. Assisting with the housework is the absolutely wonderful quartet of maids played by Terry Woods, Paige Haas, Elisa Regulski, and an actress named Carolyn Wong who reminds me a bit of comedienne, Lily Tomlin, and always seems to light up the stage, no matter how small the role. This foursome sang with perfect harmony and comic flair. Ronald Debeck offers a pleasant performance as Eliza’s suitor, Freddy, but like Mr. Heffner, his singing skills were generally overshadowed by the exceptional overall vocal talents of this cast. (Debeck‘s rendition of “On the Street Where You Live” seemed too audience-directed when Freddy should be longingly singing to the off-stage Eliza). Nevertheless, the ensemble singing of the Chorus was uniformly excellent in numbers like, “Wouldn’t it be Loverly?”, “With a Little Bit of Luck,” and the very amusing snobbery of “The Gavotte” during an uproarious Ascot racetrack scene that was beautifully staged.

With a problematic moustache that seemed to want free from his face, George Renneberg supplied some unexpected laughs in his role as the suspicious Professor Karpathy. As the audience howled, the quick-thinking Mr. Troth adlibbed, “Why don’t you get rid of that moustache?,” whereupon Renneberg threw up his arms in desparation and bowed gallantly to the screaming crowd. Meanwhile, with a delicious twinkle in her eye, Terry Lynn Hale brings matriarchal comic flair to her role as Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins. Rounding out the fine cast were Don Johnson, Julia Johnson, Wendi Sims, John Thees, Mackenzie Goode, Morgan Freeman, and Tom Lockhart.

Music Director, Dave Englert and his outstanding pit orchestra kept volumes from competing with the singers as they beautifully performed the score. The pleasant choreography of Sara Soland enriched scene after scene, while the lighting designs of Justin Woods allowed us to admire the astonishingly gorgeous array of Victorian costumes from designer, Lynn Peverill, and the attractive scenic designs of Ron Craig (especially the fine, bi-level set of Professor Higgins’ townhouse).

As I hinted above, Act One was virtually flawless. Act Two, however, had some shortcomings. First, Mr. Troth’s fine singing (“Why Can‘t the English?”), crisp elocution, and his elegant and smoothly confident Act One characterization of Higgins’ became, in Act Two, much too strident, petulant, and frantic. He rushed lines and sang too rapidly (Hymn to Him“), frowned excessively, and lost sight of the need for Higgins to have an underlying tenderness that can be admired, even as Higgins tries to hide it at play’s end. Another problem regarded sound levels for microphones. In Act One, with the exception of a noisy church chime, sound levels could not have been better (designer, Jim Tatum), but in Act Two there were numerous moments of distortion from over-amplification. These few problems aside, this is a glorious production that is both visually and musically stunning when at its best. No wonder the Crighton is approaching Sold-Out status with this musical gem.

Performances of “My Fair Lady” at Conroe’s Crighton Theatre will continue on Sept. 7, 8, 14, and 15 at 8 p.m. and include a matinee on Sunday Sept. 9th at 2 p.m. For tickets and information call 936-441-7469 or visit the website at www.CrightonPlayers.org.

(The Courier    9.9.07)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com.
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