Giving My Fair Lady A Fair Chance
My Fair Lady, originally adapted from Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, is this year’s spring musical. My Fair Lady offsets the darker, more sinister tone set by Packer’s past two productions, Cabaret and Macbeth, with a lighter, and technically highly-conventional production. However, the musical is still able to explore issues that feel eerily prescient.
Set in Edwardian London, the musical follows Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl, as she is taken under the wing of phonetics professor Henry Higgins. Higgins, along with linguist Professor Pickering, set out to pass Eliza off as a high-born lady. The two work tirelessly to transform Eliza from a working-class woman with a common accent and mannerisms, to a lady who pronounces words with precision, emphasizing the long, droning vowels and who knows the appropriate manner in which to clap.
Through the prism of London’s high-society, My Fair Lady is able to explore issues of class and sex, more specifically, the entitlement of men in taking advantage and ownership of women.
Technically speaking, it is a huge show with a number of different components. Mandy Stallings, the show’s Choreographer and Upper School Dance teacher, Jonathan Cable, the Musical Director, and Ali Boag, Chair of the Arts Department and Director, have begun to start working towards the final product.
“It’s coming together in quite an interesting way, because it is a big show, it’s a beast of a show, so we’re getting little bits ready, and then it’s like a quilt, we sew the little bits together and see what happens…” said Mr. Boag.
As rehearsals get underway, the theatre department seems focused on re-engaging with the Packer community. This lack of connection is certainly something the department experienced before. But, it seems that this year there is a larger, school-wide disconnect from the arts. Although, for each medium, the degree of this does seem to vary.
“I do think that recently there has been a drop in arts attendance in general. I know for Dance Concert it was the first ear that they haven’t been sold out. So I think that there is a cultural thing that the arts department, Mr. Boag in particular, is trying to shift by creating more classes, getting people more involved, but I think it’s kind of an endemic around Packer not just with theatre, but with all of the arts”, said Lily Pine (‘17).
There is an interesting comparison to be made between the attendance at Packer’s theatre productions to that of Packer’s annual Dance Concert, a student-lead dance show. Typically, Dance Concert sells out for all three nights. But why is the turnout so different? Is it that there is differing interest because of the type of art being performed, or because more students are involved in Dance Concert than in the play? Or neither? Is it simply because students have gotten out of the habit of attending productions?
“I want to advocate for [theatre] being a part of everyone’s Packer experience,” said Mr. Boag. “On one level it’s only twice a year. But, it is the product of an enormous amount of effort, team effort, and of course it’s after school, and of course it’s at the end of a long day, but it is something that a significant part of this community devotes a significant time and resource to and it involves a lot of people, and therefore it’s really quite a big thing in the life of the community.”
It is about changing the habit of the receptivity of the Packer community to the annual plays and musicals, and the cast of My Fair Lady plan to do just that.
“It’s a slow but steady process the past couple of weeks, and we’re already underway with some of the numbers and getting ready for being prepared before spring break,” said Elizabeth Hall-Keough (‘17), who will star as Eliza Doolittle in the production.
Alongside her, Theo Eagle (‘18) will play Alfred Doolittle, Josh Wittstein (‘19) will play Professor Pickering and Silas Rock (‘19) will play Henry Higgins. The four main characters will be supported by larger groups of ensemble, members of the cast without whom the larger, grander production wouldn’t be possible.
The play is set to run from April 27-29.