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Stage Reviews : 'My Fair Lady' Pleases The Eye, But Little Else

May 16, 1986|ELISABETH GRAHAM

Golden West College has produced a spectacularly turned out "My Fair Lady," but it's a production that, although pleasing to the eye, offers little for the mind or heart.

The lack of vitality here is especially disappointing because it's obvious that director William Purkiss wanted to put some new stripes on the venerable Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion." Purkiss has taken the emphasis off the traditional musical comedy showmanship in order to focus on the peculiarly Shavian characteristics of the people. Unfortunately, Purkiss' imaginative touches, the subtleties in his interpretation, are obscured by Steven Wolff Craig's elaborate scenery and Susan Thomas Babb's elegant period costumes. They are eye-filling indeed, but ultimately distracting. (In addition, the sets and costumes are squeaky-clean, which is not in keeping with the play's milieu.) Another problem is that Purkiss' cast is uneven, and the energy of the show suffers accordingly. As Henry Higgins, the dialectician determined to turn Cockney waif Eliza Doolittle into a lady, Jeff Johnston never quite finds Higgins' mainspring, and his performance lacks a certain magnetism. Nevertheless, watching him is most enjoyable. Johnston presents a Higgins who is utterly self-assured--a man unaware of his several considerable flaws. As a result, there is a nicely unaffected, even vulnerable, edge to the performance. Julia Dixon's Eliza, although not inspired, is drawn competently. Still, her early scenes have a mechanical quality that makes her performance seem forced, undercutting the dignity of the character. In the later scenes, after Eliza's metamorphosis, Purkiss has the character retain her rough edges, an intriguing choice, but one that makes her come off as waspish.

Stan Throneberry carries off the showy role of Eliza's roguish father with ease. Roger Pritchard is decidely awkward but has some good moments as the proper British old boy Pickering, Higgins' associate; and Lucy Foster is nicely sympathetic as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins' patient housekeeper.

Choreographer Emily Kramer's dances offer nice depictions of London street people at play. The orchestra, conducted by David Anthony, is solid, but the choral work is shaky. The lighting, designed by Kathy Pryzgoda, is harsh and uneven, frequently leaving key performers in the dark.

"My Fair Lady" continues through Sunday at Golden West College, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. All performances are sold out.

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