The Concord Journal
May 23, 1968
My Fair Lady: A REVIEW

Were one to take a phonetics lesson from the local Henry Higgins this week the practice sentence might be, "The Players performance was one of perceptual perplexities." The delightful Lerner-Loewe musical "My Fair Lady" overwhelmed the Veterans Building opening night, May 17; it continues with four performances this week, May 22 - 25.

The production is gay, adroit, accomplished: what a pity the audience must strain to see it and hear it. The problem is an old one: the Veterans Building. Could not the orchestra have been to one side of the stage--or to the rear of the audience? Without a pit, there is a visual obstacle between audience and stage and good theatrics should not permit this distraction.

One must cite the orchestration of "Fair Lady" (with the chorus, under the musical direction of Robin Esch) and choreography (Neta Barker) before the acting. Perhaps it was the engulfment of the performance, the feeling that a tidal wave of music, color, costume came flooding in leaving the spectator gasping for a glimpse of the actors. This was an undertow of dance and song, a fling with the familiar. The broom dance ("Wouldn’t It Be Lovely"); the races at Ascot ("Ascot Gavotte") executed with perfect timing; the prewedding spectacular ("Get Me to the Church on Time"), all were magnificent.

First nod to those on stage must go to Norman Singer, the one and only Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father. He tippled and he sang, then he scratched and he danced: absolutely delightfull.

The three main roles, Christopher Davies as Henry Higgins; Elizabeth Finnigan as Eliza Doolittle and Irving McDowell as Col. Pickering, were uniformly compliant. All were adequate, bet none commanding. Davies’ role was the most demanding. He was On gage in nearly every scene. He ranged the gamut of actor and singer, probably reaching the heights in "The Rain in Spain" number; yet this was only half through the first act, a little early for climactic characterization. We must confirm that Davies looked every inch Henry Higgins: his costume was flawless, his mannerisms properly Victorian.

Elizabeth Finnigan’s vocal ability must be noted -- "I Could Have Danced All Night" gave vent to these lilting qualities--but to what good when the orchestra overpowered her, cancelling out her voice? Her stage movements were spritely, but her characterization was more credible as the lady Higgins made of her than the Cockney flower girl.

As Col. Pickering, Irving McDowell played his role quietly. He wasn’t terribly bouncy (as one might expect with what was riding on the bet!), but he seemed to enjoy the part. Eric Sosman as Freddy excelled in his solo ("On the Street where You Live"), but might have smiled more as an actor. In other supporting roles were Joan Wood as Mrs. Pearce and Emily Hale as Mrs. Higgins,

Exuberant must be the word for George, Harry and Jamie (Read Albright, Peter Bird and Perry Boyden), the sidekicks of Alfred P. Doolittle. Their first number, "With a Little Bit of Luck," was smashing and they never lowered the pace. The fleeting glimpses which return after seeing "My Fair Lady" are these three prancing through the tenement section more or less filled with the brew from "The Red Lion."

Director Donald Harper added the skillful touches which made "My Fair Lady" a memorable finale to the Concord Players’ 48th season. His accomplished hand provided the servants’ chorus, and the barbershop quartet, to back up the musicianship of Robin Esch, and such niceties as tableaux to begin a scene, in-stead of a barren stage, It might be said that the performance lasted too long. But what can a director do -- cut a favorite tune or leave out the plotting dialogue? An earlier starting hour might have solved this dilemma of running beyond midnight.

The set design was superb. Robert Grady and his crew executed 11 set changes, many of which were put in place upon a darkened stage to eliminate excessive curtains. Higgins’ study, the main set, was detailed to the books upon the high shelves; the balcony was complete with exit at the upper level. The costumes (Patricia Butcher, designer) and properties were in-period. The ladies’ gowns must have presented a challenge to the Players’ seamstresses: the scenes at Covent Garden, the embassy ball and Ascot all required festive attire. Ascot may be singled out for special credit: the Dames were all in black-white ensembles and their escorts meticulously in gray.

The Players ingenuity was also displayed in the program notes, a silk-screened, delicatessen-sized syllabus. It was a bright switch from their usual handbill.

A word in closing: The Concord Players’ talents and skills, their experience and ambition are, without any doubt, wasted on the ex-armory and this community Las an artistic and cultural obligation to provide a municipal stage suitable for theatre. Until this is done, a dedicated group must wear the masque of tragedy.

--Priscilla A. Korell