Friday, June 19, 2015

MY FAIR LADY • The Muny

“My Fair Lady” was a huge hit when it premiered in 1956, and now Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical adorns the colossal Muny stage after a seven-year absence with a strong voiced ensemble and excellent leads, under the tight direction of Marc Bruni. It’s based on a film version of George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion” -- a prototype of sorts, providing a blueprint for several “transformation” films that followed. (“Trading Places” and “Pretty Woman,” anyone?)

Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle)
and the ensemble cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
Henry Higgins (Anthony Andrews), a phonetics professor, is on his way home from the opera when he meets Eliza Doolittle (Alexandra Silber), a flower girl selling her wares at Covent Garden. She catches his attention with her flagrant acts of swallowing up defenseless vowels and “h’s” thanks to her Cockney dialect. Higgins claims to Colonel Pickering (Paxton Whitehead), a linguist and fellow lover of dialects, that under his tutelage he could pass her off as a member of the upper classes. Doolittle, who wants to learn how to speak “properly” so she can work in a flower shop, is driven to seek out Higgins, and the challenge is taken up to improve her diction and social skills. Higgins sees his actions as kindhearted, though he views Doolittle as little more than an experiment, despite the keener observations of his housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce (Peggy Billo), his mother (Zoe Vonder Haar) and Pickering.

Anthony Andrews (Henry Higgins), Peggy Billo (Mrs. Pearce),
Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle)
and Paxton Whitehead (Colonel Pickering).
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
Now admittedly, there’s not a lot to love about the pompous misogynist Henry Higgins as portrayed by British Academy and Golden Globe Award winning Andrews. Later in the show Higgins refers to women as “exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening and infuriating hags!” No wonder he’s still a bachelor, right? But Andrews does manage to give you a sliver of charm to hang onto in a dapper performance, if not a little severe. Silber’s resilient Eliza Doolittle proves a good counterpart for the professor, in addition to her strong vocals, and Whitehead’s Colonel Pickering is appealingly sympathetic to Eliza. Matthew Scott as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a young man taken with Doolittle, provides some of the best vocals of the night with a memorable “On the Street Where You Live" and Peggy Billo, in her Muny debut, turns in a sparkling performance as Mrs. Pearce, with Zoe Vonder Haar’s droll Mrs. Higgins falling squarely on Doolittle’s side in the face of her son’s indifference. Michael McCormick is also a standout, providing a healthy dose of humor in his lively performance as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father.

Michael McCormick (Alfred P. Doolittle)
and the ensemble cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
On the creative side, Timothy R. Mackabee’s scenic design includes a marvelous backdrop of a map of London, a race track viewing stand, and, embellished with dozens of paintings, a rather over-busy rendering of the home of Henry Higgins, complemented by John Lasiter’s lighting design. Amy Clark’s handsome costume design informs the social classes of 1912 London, with sound design by John Shivers and Hugh Sweeney, and a score beautifully executed by the Muny orchestra.

So, there’s another classic I get to cross off my list. With well-known songs including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”, "The Rain in Spain", “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church on Time”, Bruni keeps this old standard lively enough to keep it from seeming like a doily on your grandmother’s dining room table. It’s playing until the 21st.


Cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
MY FAIR LADY

Book/lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Marc Bruni
through June 21 | tickets: $14 - $87
Performances Monday to Sunday at 8:15pm

Cast:
Anthony Andrews (Henry Higgins), Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle), Paxton Whitehead (Colonel Pickering), Michael McCormick (Alfred P. Doolittle), Matthew Scott (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Zoe Vonder Haar (Mrs. Higgins), Peggy Billo (Mrs. Pearce), Ensemble: Lori Barrett-Pagano, Leah Berry, Anna Blair, Steve Czarnecki, Thom Dancy, Colby Dezelick, Samantha Farrow, Matt Faucher, Ellie Fishman, Tanya Haglund, Michael Hartung, Steve Isom, Austin Glen Jacobs, Jacob Lacopo, Lee Anne Matthews, Russell McCook, Kaela O’Connor, Rich Pisarkiewicz and Paul Scanlan.

Creative:
Scenic design by Timothy R. Mackabee; choreographer, Chris Bailey; music director, Ben Whiteley; costume design by Amy Clark; lighting design by John Lasiter; sound design by John Shivers and Hugh Sweeney; video design by Nathan W. Scheuer; wig design by Leah J. Loukas; stage manager, Nevin Hedley.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

THE PILLOWMAN • Theatre Lab

Ryan Musselman
Martin McDonagh (“The Lieutenant of Inishmore”) has a way with dark comedy. In Theatre Lab’s gripping current production of his 2003 Olivier and Tony award-winning play, the “black” in this black comedy is pitch. The title comes from one of the stories written by our protagonist, Katurian (Jason C. Klefisch), about a man made of pillows who talks kids into offing themselves to avoid a lifetime of pain. So, you know. Yeah. Buckle up.

In a dank, leak-stained room, Katurian, a short story writer who works in a slaughterhouse, is being ferociously questioned by detective Tupolski (Eric Dean White) and police officer Ariel (Darian Michael Garey). Katurian, scared as a rabbit and still in his night clothes, has no idea what the hell is going on, but Tupolski and Ariel, after probing him about his decidedly grisly tales, eventually tell him about a recent string of child murders -- murders that bear a striking resemblance to some of Katurian’s stories. After hearing screams from the next room, Katurian learns that his special needs brother, Michal (Nick Kelly), childlike but with a head full of his brother’s yarns, is also in custody, and according to the cops, has confessed to the killings.


Eric Dean White (Tupolski), Darian Michael Garey (Ariel)
and Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian). 
Photo credit: John Lamb
Throughout “The Pillowman,” in a stylish departure from previous productions of the play where additional actors are used, we see remarkable illustrations by Aaron Allen that depict not only some of the stories in question, but also the cruelty of the brothers’ childhood that Katurian put a stop to after years of abuse suffered, particularly by Michal, at the hands of their sadistic parents.

Too many details would spoil the discoveries that are leaked little by little during the course of the play, but one thing’s for sure -- this production couldn’t be more perfectly cast. Under the tight direction of Theatre Lab’s artistic producing director Ryan Foizey, this cast of four completely disappear into the terrain of the play. Klefisch holds your attention as the central figure, but Kelly’s portrayal of Michal, a damaged innocent, is exceptional and touching, steering clear of any hint of mockery or exaggeration. Garey is the “bad cop”, having to restrain himself from beating Katurian to a pulp himself, but White proves just as quietly intimidating when pushed. Allen’s illustrations are nicely underlined by Luke Viertel’s original music, and Rob Lippert provides the scenic design, with James Slover’s lighting design heightening the action, and Marcy Weigert smartly adding to the characters with informed costume design.

Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian) and Nick Kelly (Michal).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Sadly running for only two weekends, there’s a few more chances to check out this play, and if you like dark drama (as I do) it’s worth your time to see these fine performances for yourself. It’s playing at the intimate space of the Gaslight theater until the 7th.
(Also, kudos to Ryan Musselman, who provided the excellent story graphics for the production).


THE PILLOWMAN
Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Ryan Scott Foizey 
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through June 7th | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2:30pm, Sunday, June 7 at 8pm

Eric Dean White (Tupolski),
Darian Michael Garey (Ariel)
and Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian). 
Photo credit: John Lamb

Cast:
Jason C. Klefisch (Katurian Katurian), Darian Michael Garey (Ariel), Eric Dean White (Tupolski) and Nick Kelly (Michal).

Creative:
Lighting design by James Slover; scenic design by Rob Lippert; costume design by Marcy Weigert; illustrations by Aaron Allen; original music by Luke Viertel; painting by Michelle Sauer; story graphics, Ryan Musselman.

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