By PAM HARBAUGH
Cocoa Village Playhouse brings in fresh faces in starring roles to give new blood to the Lerner and Loewe classic, “My Fair Lady.”
And what a bounty of talent there is: While 16 year-old Eliana Berrean makes a sensational Eliza Doolittle, Jonathan Goforth, Mitchel Burns and Cass Stark step out of the ranks of supporting roles to rightfully own the stage as Prof. Henry Higgins, Freddy Eynsford-Hill and Mrs. Higgins.
This sumptuous production also delights with gorgeous visuals: Ian Cook uses thematic motif of classic columns to create a beautifully unified scenic design revealing society’s haves and have-nots, the over arching theme in George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play, “Pygmalion,” upon which this libretto was based. Mr. Cook’s lighting design brings nice depth to the stage and is richly evocative.Borrowing heavily on Cecil Beaton’s work in the 1964 movie with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, costume designer Dan Hill creates a fabulously opulent array of costumes. His work delights, especially in the resplendent “Ascot Gavotte” number during which a bevy of uptight high society women parade like Las Vegas showgirls wearing high colored black and white gowns and enormous hats. Then there’s the music. Here, conductor Bob Barone and 16 musicians deliver musical perfection and theatrical flair. You will swoon over the wonderfully produced musical numbers, including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
Oh, but really…those actors. They are the ones giving breath to all of these production values, the lyrics, the dialogue and story.
Ms. Berrean finds both the musical and emotional core to Eliza Doolittle, the poor Cockney flower girl whose future is counted in the paltry coins she collects. She is from the lower class and, as such, expects to be threatened, cajoled, ridiculed by the upper class. However, her birthright has given her a spine and Ms. Berrean reveals this when her character stands up to Prof. Higgins. It’s this strength of character that makes Eliza a winner and makes the audience fall in love with her.Mr. Goforth walks the delicate line of pedant and romantic in his portrayal of Prof. Henry Higgins. He makes him at once sophisticated, dismissive, misogynistic and superior. This, of course, is what Mr. Shaw, a politically energized Irish playwright, wished revealed in “Pygmalion” — that distinction between classes and gender; and hypocrisy of the upper classes. Inspired by hubris, Prof. Higgins takes on a bet that he can turn Eliza into a lady who can “pass” at a fancy ball. He wins the bet, but it leaves Eliza not fitting in anywhere — her only hope is to marry. By now, Prof. Higgins denies his feelings toward Eliza. (Interestingly, Mr. Shaw named his play after a mythological Greek sculptor who falls in love with a sculpture he creates.)
One prospect for her is Freddy Eynsford-Hill, earnestly portrayed by Mr. Burns, who gives us one of the show’s most lavishly sung numbers, “On the Street Where You Live.” Ms. Stark is pure delight as Mrs. Higgins, the professor’s mother, a no-nonsense, sensitive and all around likeable grande dame.
Gene Hayes has great fun with his role of Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s perennially drunk and broke father. His big numbers are the “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”
Cocoa Village Playhouse gives you a full two and a half hours of fun and musical glee with “My Fair Lady.” You’ll have a “loverly” time.
To see a video of the opening weekend excitement, click here.
SIDE ‘O GRITS: “My Fair Lady” runs through April 4. $19 to $30. Cocoa Village Playhouse is at 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. Call 321-636-5050 or visit www.CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com.