They’re a pretty pair of babies playing with their live doll, as Henry’s mom aptly puts it. The dialectician extraordinaire Henry Higgins and his new counterpart Colonel Pickering undertake an experiment to see if they can turn the poor flower girl Eliza Doolittle with a ghastly cockney accent into a refined lady in a flower shop – just by teaching her to speak more genteel. What the pretty pair of babies don’t seem to quite realize is that their live doll really is alive. But they’re about to find out.

Based on George Berard Shaw’s Pygmalion, this Lerner and Loewe musical is considered one of the greatest, filled with magnificent songs and characters, and the team at Klein Collins High School do a “loverly” job with both those aspects – fantastic singing and excellent characterizations that often bravely break away from the conventional personalities as seen in the film, and do so with successful results.

It all begins with our fair lady Eliza Doolittle, performed here by Charlotte Byrd. More than most Eliza Doolittles, this one feels very realistic – a hard life on the streets of London has left her rundown, unhappy, and in some ways more mature. Though she also has a comical temper and stubborn streak, and a charming, playful sense of humor when appropriate. Her demeanor pays off not just in its realism, but in the pivotal scene when Higgins inspires her to finally speak correctly – her determined, careful, hopeful attempt to describe “the rain in Spain,” and the elated giddiness that follows, is beautifully portrayed and all the more powerful considering how down she had been before. Equally beautiful is her singing of the signature song that follows – I Could Have Danced All Night.

Eliza’s maturity is in contrast to the pair of babies playing with her. Philip Wiles is a boyish Henry Higgins, laughing at his own bad jokes, uncomfortable with real emotions, and assuming himself superior while treating everyone else as if they were common flower girls. We see his emotional awkwardness most clearly when Eliza shows her helplessness, anger, and vulnerability caused by Henry’s aloofness. Henry tries to casually calm her down, never looking at her while doing so, still unaware of his emotional attachment to his student, or unwilling to face it. Like the recent Broadway production of Pygmalion starring Claire Danes and Jefferson Mays, we see little or no romantic tension between the two – just a yearning for the student to be seen as a fellow person and friend by her teacher, and the reluctance of the self-involved teacher/creator to recognize that new relationship. Charlotte Byrd and Philip Wiles pull it off with great success.

And then there’s Henry’s fellow playmate, Garrett Zwiener as Colonel Pickering. And what an original eccentric he is with a hilarious walk, mannerisms, voice, and an Adrian Monk-ish desire for order and cleanliness (at one picking lent off Henry’s sweater and marveling merrily at one of his finds). He also finds himself reveling in the opportunity to strike a pose as an elegant mannequin for Eliza’s new dress, sticking one foot out tentatively but demurely.

The show includes several other great performances. Jackson Perrin gives a strong rendition of the ballad On the Street Where You Live, then looks like he’s literally been camped out on her doorstep for weeks when he begins the reprise – before becoming amusingly flustered when Eliza frustratingly lays into her suitor with Show Me. Meghan Burke turns in a nice performance as Henry’s embarrassed mother. Shannon Stockon nails the role of Henry’s head housekeeper Mrs. Pearce with a calming, refined voice and character, keeping her subordinates on their toes (during the late-night events the two maids, Deneka Mahana and Jessica Welshans, keep falling asleep against each other), and Shannon has great understated reactions of limited patience with her juvenile employer. And then, of course, there is Eliza’s not-so-subtle father. Jacob Gleason has terrific stage presence as he bellows in his burly accent, shoves his mates around, and leads the excellent ensemble in a couple rousing numbers of With a Little Bit of Luck and Get Me to the Church on Time. It’s also probably the first time I’ve seen Alfred P. Doolittle telling his daughter to stand on her own two feet with it sounding like a sincere effort to finally be a dad, and not just trying to get rid of her.

Director Jami Hughes has all facets of the show on a high level, from the impressive set of the Higgins house (Thang Dang) to the quality costumes, good choreography by Erin Roper especially in Get Me to the Church on Time, terrific backstage work with some massive and complicated set changes (stage managed by Beth James), and a remarkably spot-on school orchestra that I could have listened to all night.

Performed January 31 - February 5, 2008.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~
Eliza Doolittle: Charlotte Byrd
Colonel Pickering: Garrett Zwiener
Professor Henry Higgins: Philip Wiles
Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Jackson Perrin
Alfred P. Doolittle: Jacob Gleason
Mrs. Higgins: Meghan Burke
Mrs. Pearce: Shannon Stockton
Bartender: Sam Green
Harry: Trey Kroon
Jamie: Michael Dippel
Mrs. Eynsford-Hill: Sarah Quiroz
Mrs. Hopkins: Bethany Trevino
Professor Zultan-Karpathy: James McKensie
Bystanders: Evan McGrew, Brandon Connor
Cockney Chorus:
James McKensie
Trey Kroon
Eric Brighton
Marvin Angel
Butler: Justin Pyron
Tyler Daughrity
Dylan Welch
Dylan Parrish
Lord Boxington: Andrew Dahdouh
Lady Boxington: Alysse Fisher
Flower Girl: Audrey Starks
Selsey Man: Greg Carker
Hoxton Man: Ian McGrew
Maids: Deneka Mahana, Jessica Welshans
Queen of Transylvania: Taylor Schackman

Director: Jami Hughes
Choral Directors: Gaylene Kelley, Jan Juneau
Orchestra Department Director: Kirk Jones
Band Department Director: Barbara Streit
Stage Manager: Beth James
Set Designer: Thang Dang
Choreographer: Erin Roper


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