My Fair Lady

Hale Center’s production of Lerner and Loewe’s beloved musical “My Fair Lady” uses minimalist, abstract sets, the gorgeous costumes one expects from this theater, and actors with strong singing voices to tell the curious tale of Eliza Doolittle.

Eliza (Kristine Jorgensen) is a Cockney flower girl in 1912 London. Language snob Professor Henry Higgins (Mark Pulham; normally played in this cast by Cody Hale) makes a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering (Lynn Beus) that he can train Eliza well enough in grammar and diction to be passed off as a duchess.

Seeking a better life, Eliza agrees to be the object of the bet, and soon Henry is teaching her to quit dropping the “h” at the beginning of his name and to pronounce it “rain” instead of “rine.”

His plan works, everyone thinks she’s upper-crust, and well-off (but lazy) Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Curt R. Jensen) falls in love with her. Meanwhile, Eliza is incensed to discover that Henry and Pickering consider her nothing more than a guinea pig, a project they worked on to settle a stupid bet between them. Appalled at Henry’s insensitivity, she heads back to her old life.

There is some delightful music in this show, from the toe-tapping “With a Little Bit of Luck” to the sweet “On the Street Where You Live.” Unfortunately, nearly every song goes on too long. They sing and sing and just when you think they’ve stopped, they come up with another verse — or, worse, another repeat of the same verse. (Eliza sings the words “I could have danced all night” approximately 1,000 times in the song of that name.) This slows down the show considerably, especially when we hear pointless songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely?” early on, when we don’t even know what the play is about yet.

Jorgensen is endearing as Eliza — once she’s been refined, that is. As the Cockney version, she’s shrill and one-dimensional, causing one to agree with Henry when he tells her, “Cease this detestable boo-hooing!”

But after Henry has worked his magic on the charcter, Jorgensen gives her gentle beauty and strength. Her chemistry with Mark Pulham, who does a fine job as the persnickety Henry, is minimal, leading me to believe even more strongly that she ends up with the wrong guy in the end, but these two aren’t supposed to be in the same cast anyway. One assumes they both work better with their regular partners.

The supporting cast is generally strong, including Nan McCulloch as Henry’s mother and Fred Derbyshire as Eliza’s father (though Derbyshire often has trouble working up enough breath to get out the lyrics to his songs).

It’s not the best show Hale Center has done this year, nor is it the best production of “My Fair Lady” you could see. But for fans of the show (and of Hale’s informal, family-friendly environment), it’s mostly entertaining.

Reason #87 not to double-cast your show: potential lack of chemistry between two people who aren't supposed to be in the same cast, but who wind up together when someone has to sub for someone else. Double-casting suggests that actors are all interchangeable, which they aren't. Or shouldn't be, anyway.

Sitting in front of me was a boy of about 9. He had a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Now, I'm familiar with the commercials where they say, "There's no wrong way to eat a Reese's." Well, that's because they hadn't seen this kid. He would smear off a little piece of the cup onto his finger, then put his whole finger in his mouth and slurp it off. Then he would slurp three of his fingers, to get all the remaining peanut butter goodness. He did this quite loudly, and slurping is not a sound that is pleasant to the ears, even when done quietly. And because he smeared off such a little piece each time, it took about 18 smears before he had finished the thing. After a while, I started kicking the back of his chair every time he slurped. I hoped that, like Pavlov's dogs, he would come to associate slurping with having his chair kicked and therefore stopped slurping. But it didn't work. I was about to try kicking him in the head instead, but he finally finished the candy, at which point he -- this is completely true -- beginning licking and slurping the wrapper the candy came in. The boy's father sat next to him, oblivious. On the other side of him, a non-related grownup witnessed the whole thing and seemed to be approximately as horrified as I was. I think it's terrific that parents would take their kids to the theater; I just think they should teach them some manners (or at least the basic rules of living in a civilization) as well.