My Fair Lady,” at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, through July 7

By Tom Nissley

The wonderful Summer Theatre of New Canaan is back in business under the tent in Waveny Park. [find it by entering the High School drive from Farm Road and keep going all the way.] The big event from now through July 7, is Lerner and Lowe’s “My Fair Lady,” directed by Allegra Libonati, and staged by a wonderful production team, including Doug Shankman (choreography), David Hancock Turner (music director), Charles Pavarini III (sets), Devon Allen (lighting), Arthur Oliver (costumes), and Brett Jarvis (sound).

 

“My Fair Lady,” which came to Broadway in 1956, is based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” and ‘giving credit where it’s due,’ is a great show because of Shaw’s creative book. It’s an intellectual gem, and Ms. Libonati makes the most of that by allowing the collusion of a brash Henry Higgins (Richard Sheridan Willis) and genteel Colonel Pickering (Gary Harger) -- first connected by their studies of phonetics on two continents -- to flourish with their wager that Higgins can turn a Covent Garden flower girl into a duchess with something akin to shock therapy. Both men are excellent in their roles, and Richard Sheridan Willis makes Higgins beautifully insensitive, as he’s intended to be. Jazmin Gorsline is a fabulous Eliza Doolittle, making some of the best yowling noises one has ever listened to in all the scenes before she’s ‘got it,’ and learning to be a princess with passion.

 

Shaw deliciously added another theme that blossomed in “My Fair Lady,” with the conversion of Eliza’s father from a low-life drunk to a man with middle class wealth due to an inheritance from an American philanthropist who sought out men of moral stature. Brian Silliman gives a magnificent and unforgettable presence to Alfred P. Doolittle, aided and abetted by companions played by Lou Ursone and William Hammons, and the entire ensemble of Cockney peddlers and buskers. “With a little bit ‘o Luck“ and “Get me to the church on time...” have never been performed better, and are a resounding reminder of the care this company takes with choreography and staging -- you won’t believe the rhythm and talent of the youngest actors, Christian Camporin and Myra Schacher, who participate inĀ  the energetic dancing of the buskers as if it’s second nature.

 

Anna Holbrook is marvelous as Mrs. Higgins, so the several family systems proceed as Shaw prescribed, turning collusion into collision and back again. Christian Libonati sings the smitten Freddy beautifully, and Joan Mitchell Carlo plays his mother, Mrs. Eynsford Hill.

 

Which brings us to the meat of how the Summer Theatre, also known as STONC.org, works so well. All the actors are great singers and dancers, thoroughly flexible, turning up in different roles after a quick change. Joan Mitchell Carlo is also present among the Cockneys. So is Gail Yudain, and Lou Ursone. Dru Serkes and Katie Oxman, old friends by now to New Canaan audiences, are each flexible and well defined in their roles, great dancers, and with real ‘persona.’ This company is one in which cooperation and community spirit are epitomized, with a democratic approach to featured moments that reminds me of the Royal Danish Ballet.

 

And let’s not forget the orchestra, which creates and keeps solid background and wild accompaniment under Mr. Turner’s baton. It is just plain terrific!

 

It is abso-bloomin-lutely safe to give this production of “My Fair Lady” a score of 15 on a scale of 1-10. Don’t miss it, and don’t wait. I predict that tickets will be in demand. Phone number: 203-966-4634

 

“The Wizard of OZ,” STONC’s newest children’s theatre production, also opened on Sunday, June 17, with some of the same talented performers playing characters there. The company also has special presentations lined up for schools, summer camps, and “Arts for Healing.” Orchids to the Libonati family, and all the helpers of the STONC programs, for how much they give to New Canaan and the region.

 

Tom Nissley, for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre.

 

June 17, 2012

 

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