Producer Howard Perloff and the Bucks County Center for the Performing Arts have a fine production of “My Fair Lady” in Doylestown at Delaware Valley University that continues though Aug. 13.
Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” is a classic musical to which virtually everyone has been exposed. It is the story of a flower girl who gets transformed into a lady by a linguistics professor, who has taken on the enterprise as part of a bet. While he works at transforming her, he starts begrudgingly caring about the the girl.
After it debuted on Broadway in 1956, the original Broadway cast album topped the Billboard charts for 15 weeks after its release. In fact, it was a record that pretty much every family had in their collection. The music includes standards such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
It was also made into a movie with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, and won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Because it is beloved and well known, audiences come with a certain expectation. So the question becomes, “Can your production meet the high expectations of the audience?”
Based on George Bernard Shaw ‘s Pygmalion, the play also demands stronger acting skills of its leads than most musicals. Another challenge is the length — nearly three hours. I have sat though excruciatingly mediocre productions where you are constantly looking at your watch waiting for it to end. Luckily this is not the case here. Your stay in Covent Garden and Upper Wimpole Street with this production is totally enjoyable.
In order to make the musical work, there needs to be chemistry between the leads. Also, on Eliza’s part, a believable arc of going from grumbling ragamuffin to a well-spoken beauty, with a gradual metamorphosis that can be believed. Henry, conversely, must be disagreeable and yet attractive. There should be a tweedy, pipe-in-hand sense of superiority that is able to crumble in the face of the creation that he has made. This has been accomplished, as this production has had more than “A Little Bit of Luck” having cast Meredith Beck as Eliza Doolittle and Christopher Swan as Professor Henry Higgins. They are superb performers who keep you riveted to all they do.
The rest of the cast is fine, as well. I especially enjoyed Jessica Mary Murphy as Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper. I would be remiss not to mention that this is a fledgling company with a much more limited budget than the Bucks County Playhouse or the Bristol Riverside, but that is exactly why you should go. There is no ongoing theater in Doylestown. And, yes, there should be.
The sets are not as lavish, and the orchestra is one piano, but theater can transform a door frame to a house and a piano into a full-fledged orchestra when there is enough heart there to make it so. And that there is. Meredith Beck and Christopher Swan give performances that you will not soon forget.
Since good productions of this show are few and far between, and I highly recommend you go to the Delaware Valley University auditorium to see this show. Producer Howard Perloff and Director Danielle Paccione and cast and crew clearly love their craft and have created something special. They have made “My Fair Lady” into more than a fair evening, and you should support them.
Tickets are $37-$57, and are available online. Remaining performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Delaware Valley University is located at 700 E. Butler Ave. in Doylestown.