Still Fair and Still a Fine Lady
By Glen Creason
It was like meeting a dear old friend at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend, a very old and dear one. Sometime in the term of John F. Kennedy I first saw “My Fair Lady” at the Biltmore Theater in downtown Los Angeles and I attribute a life long love of musicals to that magical evening. So it was magical indeed to hear the wonderful songs and clever dialogue of that same masterpiece by Lerner and Loewe at the great hall in Cerritos. This staging by Big league productions was done up right, with dazzling costumes, impressive sets and a stage-full of skilled actors and actresses that made this dear lady sing sweetly. In scenes like the memorable and hilarious visit to Ascot for the thoroughbred racing and thoroughbred Britons in grand costume the thrill of live musical theater was truly exemplified.
The musical, based on the play “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw is truly an evergreen but much depends on the principals who portray the essential roles of the professor Henry Higgins and his pupil Eliza Doolittle who is changed from a humble flower seller from the seedy streets of London to a fine lady who charms “polite” society. In this Cerritos show Chris Carsten as the professor was a tower of strength in this challenging role with so much dialogue and speak-singing. It is hard not to compare any Henry Higgins to the film’s Rex Harrison but Carsten was certainly as good or better as a singer and managed to make the prickly professor quite loveable by the end of the performance. The true lynchpin of the show was Aurora Florence as Eliza who captured the somewhat raggedy early cockney street girl who then blooms into a beautiful and elegant young woman. Ms. Florence possesses an extraordinary voice and was able to make these classics sound all shiny and new, especially a stunning “I Could Have Danced All Night” and a sassy reading of the sometimes overlooked “Without You.” Her transformation from a figure of pity to one of stunning beauty was exactly what the creators had in mind when they invented Eliza. Still, this was a team effort despite the powerhouse principals and the entire ensemble worked seamlessly to make this highly unlikely plot look like a beautiful love story. There were the songs that sounded just as good today as they did back when everyone looked like the cast of MadMen. “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “With a Little Bit of Luck,” “The Rain in Spain,” “Get Me to the Church On Time” and the delicious “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” all stood up like a fine vintage. Richard Springle as Colonel Pickering was spot on in the key role of the sympathetic friend and understudy Tommy J. Dose made the shameless Alfred P. Doolittle come to inebriated life. Daniel Cardenas’ soaring version of “On the Street Where You Live” was an evening high point and the continued chorus of “Poor Professor Higgins” lingered as I jumped on the 91 freeway headed home.