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THEATER REVIEW

Fairest of All : Shaw's Ideas and the Insightful Performances of a Pacific Coast Production Make a Fine 'Lady'

October 27, 1998|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady" has probably the best book of any musical ever written. That's because it was written by George Bernard Shaw. The composing team used his "Pygmalion" script and just added music. The show has never left an audience wanting.

A solid, well-conceived revival by Pacific Coast Civic Light Opera--the final offering of its premiere season at the Mainstage of Golden West College--gives a fine view of the intent of those authors.

Something else this production gives its audience is very good Shaw. That means that the performers in the lead roles, and the director, allow Shaw's subtle sociopolitical ideas to shine through.

The irony of Professor Higgins' advice to an American social reformer to hire Eliza Doolittle's philandering father as a lecturer, and the disastrous effect his new affluence has on him, is not only pure Shaw, but also very nicely put by this company.

There are a couple of good reasons. Higgins is played by Ian Ogilvy, an British actor who knows what his countrymen writers were trying to convey and makes their brilliance clear.

As Eliza's malcontent father, Julian Holloway knows--as did his father, Stanley Holloway (who created the role in the original Broadway production)--the British music hall shtick that makes Alfred P. Doolittle come to life.

These two performances are not only truly Shavian, but also so insightful and entertaining as to shed new light on the characters.

The satisfying charm and musical savvy of these two characters is almost enough in itself, and yet they're almost topped by the performance of Amy Rutberg as Eliza, the Covent Garden flower girl whom Higgins turns into a fine lady.

Rutberg, a 16-year-old UCLA senior, has a refreshing command of the stage. She sings Loewe's melodies with Broadway style and Lerner's lyrics with an intuitive grasp. She's someone to watch.

In the supporting cast, Trevor H. Olsen stands out sharply as the slightly foggy Freddy Eynsford-Hill, for his crystal sharp musical comedy voice and his ability to turn the usually bumbling stereotype into a romantic suitor whose slight dimness cannot hide the charm Eliza sees.

*

The often thankless role of Col. Pickering is brightened here by Joe Medalis, who plays Pickering as a sort of ersatz Dr. Watson, with bubbling humor and quick wit clouded by vagueness.

Carol Herman is a very restrained Mrs. Pearce, Higgins' housekeeper but has several effective moments, and Jo Black-Jacob is a standard-issue British matron as Higgins' sensible mother.

The production and performances were brought about by director Gary Davis, who saw into the heart of the show, aided by Nick DeGregorio's energetic musical direction and Brandee Williams' simple but effective choreography.

If this modest but effective production is an indication of the fledgling Pacific Coast Civic's future, that future is promising.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* "My Fair Lady,"

Mainstage Theatre, Golden West College, 15744 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $22.50-$24.50. Ends Nov. 15. (714) 895-8150. Running time: 3 hours.

Ian Ogilvy: Professor Henry Higgins

Amy Rutberg: Eliza Doolittle

Joe Medalis: Col. Pickering

Trevor H. Olsen: Freddy Eynsford-Hill

Carol Herman: Mrs. Pearce

Jo Black-Jacob: Mrs. Higgins

A Pacific Coast Civic Light Opera production of the Lerner and Loewe musical based on the play by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by Gary Davis. Musical direction: Nick DeGregorio. Choreography: Brandee Williams. Scenic design: David Gibson. Lighting design: L. Lynn Hart. Sound design: Scott Steidinger. Costume design: Susan Thomas Babb. Production stage manager: Lisa Gurule.

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