Review: Broadway came to Cowichan in Friday's classy My Fair Lady

Eliza Doolittle (Sarah Lane) ducks the amorous advances of Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Zander Felton) during SIMS
Eliza Doolittle (Sarah Lane) ducks the amorous advances of Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Zander Felton) during SIMS' sensational premiere of My Fair Lady in the Cowichan Theatre Friday.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Broadway quality by a Cowichan company is the best way to describe Friday's Cowichan Theatre debut of My Fair Lady.

Boasting terrific tunes, awesome dancing, and sensational singing — laced with all the right comedic touches — South Island Musical Society's cast and crew can rightly be proud of their big show.

Yes, MFL's opener was a 3 1/2-hour extravaganza, but the healthy house didn't seem to mind; the stage was in perpetual motion with scene and cast changes backed by Hilary Coupland's polished pit orchestra.

One just didn't feel folks were fidgeting in their seats.

It didn't hurt that many numbers are classics — from Why Can't The English?, and Wouldn't It Be Loverly?, to I Could Have Danced All Night — in Lerner and Loewe's timeless 1956 musical based on playwright George Bernard Shaw's masterwork Pygmalion.

Actor Cliff Braaten's stupendous sets provided an amply sweeping backdrop to MFL set in post-Victorian England: a merry place for the idle rich; a grim place for poor Cockney folks such as Eliza Doolittle.

But Sarah Lane imported the perfect measure of accented joy to the grubby-yet-virtuous flower girl striving to escape the gutter.

It was hard keeping one's eyes off Lane who danced and sang her way into our hearts, especially after meeting her pompous mentor of elocution, Prof. Henry Higgins (Alex Gallacher).

The veteran actor's turn as the foppish English egotist was the second stone pillar supporting director Drew Kemp's lovely tale of brave metamorphosis above snobbish Britain's disgraceful class system.

Pillar three was compassionate Col. Pickering, played by 89-year-old Bob Norris, apparently still in his stage prime.

Enter pillar four, Eliza's deadbeat dad Alfred Doolittle, dandily depicted by stage veteran Ian Rothnie.

His tipsy bar rat seemed as tailor made for Rothnie as Eliza was for Lane.

Scotsman Rothnie seemed natural using soft-shoe footwork, choreographed by Cathy Schmidt, during rowdy With A Little Bit Of Luck, and Get Me To The Church On Time.

Gallacher's witty portrayal of jaded-heart bookworm Higgins was also sterling.

His reactions to what was said and done rivaled Eliza's mesmerizing expressions when she tasted chocolate as reward for mastering upper-crust manners and diction.

One priceless scene saw Eliza's mouth loaded with real marbles by Higgins, in an attempt to get the right diction.

Another saw Higgins use a lantern flame that, when spoken to, evoked the right pronunciation of 'H'.

Good-bye Cockney lass, hello classy socialite created by Higgins during a bet with pal Pickering.

White-gowned Eliza (Marika Brimacombe's convincing costumes scored two pins up) showed she indeed had acquired the right class-busting accent during an Ascot horse-race, and at a formal ball.

But Higgins wasn't so smug when he realized despite Eliza's English epiphany, she still sported no-nonsense smarts telling her she'd be used.

Higgins' hard heart slowly melted with jealousy as Eliza was courted by doting suitor Freddy (Zander Felton).

And therein sat Lady's morals about character and charm, love and loss, truth and fakery, classiness and low-class.

No wonder one fan who saw the original Broadway version, starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison, was so impressed with SIMS' sparkling Lady.

My Fair Lady runs April 5, 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m., and April 6 at 2 p.m.

Romantic-comedy musical rating: 9.5 vowels out of 10.

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