Let me begin by saying this was my first venture to the Arena Stage.
With this in mind, I really wanted to make my inaugural visit that with at least a smidgen of familiarity by choosing the production of My Fair Lady, a musical I have known since elementary school. I didn’t have any expectations of what it would look like “In the Round” though I believe it was, in the end, very well done. That being said, let’s look at the players for the December 23rd, 2012 showing of My Fair Lady at the Arena Stage.
The cast of MFL was a colorful one. They perform well together, and I am glad to say they acknowledge and execute the art of Acting to the Last Second. This is a term I like to use for cast members, Dance or Stage, that continue their character well beyond the sight of the main stage and off into the curtains. There are plenty of people like me who look for this small thing, and relish the chance to jump on Actors/Dancers who end their routines well before being concealed by the curtain. To me, this is a sign of commitment to character, and the cast of MFL were indeed that and more. Manna Nichols was an adequate Eliza Dolittle, but the atmosphere and requirement of an In The Round performance does not suite her well. He voice does not punctuate, nor carry, and while she has the vibrato, she does not have the power or volume. The fan-favorite scene at the horse race for her immortal swear toward the unfortunate horse named Dover was almost uncomfortable to me, as her tiny vocal chords carried the least enthusiastic rendition of “ass” I have yet to hear in any scenario, stage or real life. While her gestures are a tad more convincing, and her appearance fitting, the attitude and vocal necessity of Eliza Doolittle was absent. She played a role well, but she was not Eliza Doolittle. Benedict Campbell’s adaption of the Professor was a much more welcomed performance. His delivery, unlike that of Eliza’s was enough to supplant his average singing prowess. He was easily the best performer, possibly challenged only by the crowd-pleasing wit of his dear mother. Thomas Adrian Simpson as Pickering is likeable, while Father Doolittle may have been too old for the part, his voice well drowned out by anyone else on stage, he appeared to come in late during his Little Bit of Luck segment.
The stage pictured above, is a small one, but well used. The actors travel frequently to ensure the audience gets their fill. While the minimalist design works, at times, the scene stealer can be the Conductor, frantically waving his left hand while prompting actors and cues. -Not a bad thing. More amusing and interesting if anything. The music was on par, save for the sole actor playing the washboard. He needed a metronome. I was kind of wondering if the live orchestra would sound muffled underneath the stage, and despite them being mic’d up, I could still here the suppressed sound colliding with the speaker sound, but such was the necessary layout for such a small space. The props were on point, the chandeliers coming down from the ceiling and the stage opening up with the stairs was a pleasant surprise. The stage manager and tech crew themselves were well concealed up above, and I would say all the cues were on point, save for possibly the ending. I had a really hard time with the ending, as I felt the fade out happened too soon, or the actors themselves did not get into position in time. Eliza and the professor are not meant to jump into each others’ arms, however, they moved uncomfortably close, and much closer once the lights had gone nearly dark. The Line “where the devil are my slippers also felt a bit misplaced, if only by seconds.
I wouldn’t call this a high-caliber performance, though it was a nonetheless an enjoyable one. The cast looked like they had a good time, and that always helps the audience to follow suite. While I look forward to seeing another show at the Arena Stage in the round, I would say once is enough for this production of MFL.