PlayMakers' 'My Fair Lady' puts fresh take on classic musical

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PlayMakers' Repertory Company in their production of "My Fair Lady." 

Photo taken by Ken Huth, courtesy of Rosalie Preston

Get ready to dance all night — PlayMakers Repertory Company is performing "My Fair Lady." 

For the past two weeks, PlayMakers has been taking on the classic musical with a fresh look, while still preserving each original line and lyric.

The show opened on April 5, and is running until April 29 at Paul Green Theatre. 

Tyne Rafaeli is the director of “My Fair Lady,” which follows the feisty and determined Eliza Doolittle (played by Mia Pinero) as she takes an opportunity to reinvent herself by taking voice lessons with voice professor Henry Higgins, who attempts to mentor her from a flower seller into a “lady." 

Jeffrey Blair Cornell, who plays Higgins and is also associate chairperson in the Department of Dramatic Art, said he finds a compelling meaning in the musical that is still relevant today. This resonance, he believes, comes from a powerful and relatable message.

“It’s also about becoming who we want to be, so it’s about identity, particularly for Eliza," Cornell said. "She’s given a new opportunity through learning a new way of speaking that opens doors for her. So it’s about her transforming.”

His favorite song is Mia Pinero's rendition of “I Could Have Danced all Night,” which highlights Eliza's change. 

“When she sings ‘I Could Have Danced all Night,’ it’s just absolutely transcendent," he said. "It’s about a woman, or a human being, finding a first thrill or first rush of achievement and feeling possibility and potential in herself for the first time.”

Cornell sees an important growth taking place in Higgins throughout the story as well.

“It’s also about Higgins transforming and his awareness of the role of intimacy in his life and the importance of relationships that are not just collegial, more friendships,” he said.

The story’s relevance also lies in its exploration of gender roles and what it means to be a “lady,” a theme that's particularly significant in this adaptation. David Adamson, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Dramatic Art and a member of the ensemble, said this is the result of a shift in emphasis in this production.

“It’s being looked at with 21st-century eyes,” he said. “It’s more about a woman finding herself and asserting herself.”

The musical has a somewhat open-ended conclusion, leaving room for interpretation in regards to representation of gender issues as well as the result of the romantic relationship.

“Do they get together at the end? Well, you need to come to find out," Adamson said. "But we’ve made a very deliberate choice to emphasize that aspect of the story.”

Interpretation also comes into play when it comes to choreography, especially since the Paul Green Theatre features seating around the stage — rather than facing the audience in one direction, actors must engage the audience on multiple sides.

Jackson Campbell, a sophomore dramatic arts and communications double major working with the deck crew, said PlayMakers has given him a rewarding opportunity as an undergraduate student. 

“It’s really cool to be put in a professional theater environment and to get to work with professionals,” Campbell said.

For students who may not have seen the show before, it is an exciting first look at an iconic musical. Campbell had never seen it before working on it, but said it's an exciting musical to work with.

“‘My Fair Lady’ is just a classic show to get to work on," he said.

"And to be that up close with the actors and the rest of the crew and technicians who are doing such a great job with everything.”

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