by Michael Bowen & r & This is a great way to open the Civic's season. It's the best makeover story going." Director Troy Nickerson is enthusiastic about his upcoming production of My Fair Lady at Spokane Civic Theatre (Sept. 30-Oct. 30). There's even an equation that proves he's right: The Lerner and Loewe musical equals Extreme Makeover, minus the plastic surgeons and blubbering family members, plus a speech-and-etiquette course of instruction, all multiplied by fancy Edwardian sets and costumes and raised to the power of (at least) eight great recognizable songs. Couching the whole story in the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea (by way of a George Bernard Shaw play) doesn't hurt either. Besides, the Cockney duckling in My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, once she's transformed into an elegant swan, doesn't simply melt into a puddle of tears during the reveal. Instead, she has the wherewithal to stand up to her creator's condescensions.
Because while Professor Henry Higgins may be able to improve a street girl's speech patterns, he's lousy at treating his test subjects as people. Higgins, remember, for all his refined learning, is verbally abusive to Eliza, calling her "a draggle-tailed guttersnipe," "a presumptuous insect" and "a squashed cabbage leaf that doesn't deserve to live." Nickerson lets the lines register, then joshes, "Dude, lighten up -- just because she doesn't know how to talk ..."
Higgins (to be played in this production by Thomas Heppler) transforms Eliza's speech, appearance and independence. But what effect does she have on him? "In that household," says Nickerson, "even with the wait staff, it's all somber and very quiet, because of him. But just with her coming into that household -- she brings fun and youth, and that's reflected in the servants and even his mother."
Nickerson has refashioned this version, saying that even though My Fair Lady isn't usually a dance-heavy show, "This one is! I've got a young man named Ryan Calley helping me choreograph this show -- he comes from a ballet background, and he's got a lot of energy to give to a musical theater show like this one."
As Eliza, Kendra Kimball will face the challenges of all those famous songs -- "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" "Just You Wait," "I Could Have Danced All Night" -- not to mention seven costume changes and the precedents of Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn.
And with still more memorable songs -- "With a Little Bit of Luck," "The Rain in Spain," "On the Street Where You Live," "Get Me to the Church on Time," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" -- rehearsals must be a challenge.
For a big show like this one, how many hours will the group put in on any one of the big production numbers?
"If we're rehearsing from 6:30 to 9:30 or 10 o'clock at night," he says, "we could easily spend -- just doing the blocking and getting to the dance break, not including the singing -- just doing the preliminary stuff, six or seven hours. And after that? Twenty or 30 minutes every night, just during the run-throughs."
From first rough rehearsal to final polished performance, in other words, it takes a lot of time to accomplish an entire-cast makeover.