Review: “My Fair Lady” with the Pickwick Players

Christian Jost

  • OnStage Virginia Critic

I’ll be honest, up until Saturday night, I had never seen My Fair Lady, the play or movie. All I knew was the general plot and that the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at the production the Pickwick Players put forward, even though I’m not a fan of the musical itself. My Fair Lady follows the life of a young Ms. Eliza Doolittle as she is thrown into the lives of Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering, who believe they can transform her into a proper young lady as opposed to the street girl she really is. This proves to be more difficult than Prof. Higgins anticipated, causing him to spend night after night teaching Eliza before she finally gets it. The show takes a turn however when Eliza doesn’t know that she is a transformed lady and must decide the proper thing to do when choosing how to spend the rest of her life.

The Pickwick Players, primarily located in Hamilton VA, have been doing productions for just about 11 years now and show no signs of stopping. They’ve presented 23 full scale musicals that range from “The Secret Garden” to “High School Musical”. They also have an annual summer camp for younger actors that put up musicals as well. If you’re in the area and want to learn more about the group check out their website, 

Standout performances in this production would Include Kristen Fitzgerald who plays Eliza. I’ve had the honor to see Kristen perform in another production where she didn’t have an accent, which lead to my surprise when seeing how flawless her dialects were and how seamlessly she switched between them when need be. She also had a perfect voice for the part and was able to sing her high notes to the back of the house with no trouble.  Jeff Mitchell gave a very believable performance as Higgins, making the audience laugh and cringe whenever the show called for it. Although Mr. Mitchell stumbled over a line here or there, it actually managed to work for the character, it felt as if the character began to speak, realized the diction and syntax of the statement wasn’t good enough and decided to reword it. The most impressive thing about Fitzgerald and Mitchell was that those roles were double cast! Usually I don’t care for double cast shows because they always feel lacking in quality, as most actors only give 50% because they only get 50%. This was definitely not the case in this production, both gave it 100% and if I hadn’t looked at the program I would have thought the roles were theirs exclusively.  Although John Geddie took a little while to get his energy up as Colonel Pickering, once it was up it stayed up.  He wound up getting some of the best laughs of the night as well as showing the kindhearted aspect of the show that isn’t present in many of its characters. Finally, Bill Kirkendale showed amazing commitment to his character, Eliza’s father, and seemed to execute this role to perfection. His accent, mannerisms, movement and overall performance were the most authentic of the show.

The most impressive thing to me in this production was the Ensemble. As we all know, the Ensemble can either be a fun and great experience or terrible depending on how the cast approaches it. It’s no secret that some people in the Ensemble auditioned for leads and didn’t get them and became bitter, usually this reads pretty well on stage as it feels like the ensemble isn’t really interacting with each other and just sings the songs because the script tells them to. However this Ensemble had none of that; they were completely engaged with each other and professionally acted and reacted to the surroundings (meaning they didn’t take away from the leads, they just shined on their own without forcing the audience to pay attention to them). Some standout members of the Ensemble were Erica Stewart, Bob Rosenberg, Donna Russel (who also gave a great performance as Mrs. Higgins, Henry’s mother), Mike Goshorn and my personal favorite Loralee Price.

As a critic I can’t tell you whether the direction by Michele Reynolds and Donna Russell was really good or the characters were excellent at making choices or some combination of both but somehow something impressive stuck.  In a play the audience can expect to see a certain amount of “garbage” which means characters do things like fix their hair, adjust their clothes, or do any number of things that don’t fit the scene. This show however, lacked that as every movement by the actors seemed precise and intentional. I commend them for that. Although there was little choreography in the show, the choreography they did have seemed very synchronized.  Kudos to Theresa Pazanowski for that.

Another shining star in this production was the costuming. It’s no secret costume budgets for community theatre are very small, the Pickwick Players however spared no expense. The costumes were perfect for everyone in the cast. Whether it was Eliza’s elegant ball gowns, Higgins proper English cardigan or some the largest hats you’ve ever seen for the horse race goers. I hope to see more community shows where the costume artists/designers put as much detail and effort into their costumes as Deirdre Breithaupt, Katie McDaniel, Loretta deLamare, And Lou Mitchell. This production used tracks instead of a live band, which is usually no problem, however there were a few times when the music was too loud to hear the singing on stage. That being said, the vocals in this show, taught by the music director Mike Goshorn, were all pretty solid. Some standout songs included “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly (Reprise)”, and “Get Me To The Church On Time”.

What plagued this production the most were the long set changes. Granted they performed on a middle school stage which are all very tight to maneuver but having several 40+ second set changes in a show that is already over 3 hours long is a bit excessive. The stage also seemed to be a bit cluttered at times due to the large amount of people in the cast. I understand the desire to cast as many people as possible in a show like this but in my opinion there needed to either be a smaller cast or a less complicated to set. Having both combined caused the audience to be overwhelmed at times, making them lose focus from the performance as a whole and nobody wants that. I won’t blame the actors for the slower pace of this show because that’s just the kind of show it is. It’s a more old fashion type of musical and we don’t really relate to its themes as much anymore. They did the best they could with the material they were given and put forward a show to be proud of. I hope to see them continue to grow and put up great works in the future!

Photo: Donna M Kross