UCO’s My Fair Lady is Timeless and Ever Fresh

Published June 4, 2018 | By Adrienne Proctor

If there was ever an ideal model for what musical theatre should be, My Fair Lady would fit the criteria perfectly. One of the most highly-regarded musicals of all-time, the original Broadway run in 1956 starred Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. Harrison later reprised his role as Henry Higgins, next to the iconic Audrey Hepburn, in the 1964 movie. My Fair Lady follows Eliza Doolittle, a young girl from 1913 London who enlists help from a dialect coach to become a seemingly presentable lady.

The University of Central Oklahoma’s Broadway Tonight and Summerstock Productions have teamed up to bring this classic to UCO’s stage. UCO alum and veteran actress Lindsie VanWinkle returns as Eliza. VanWinkle is an amazing vocalist, astoundingly talented and a beautiful Eliza. She’s the total package, with composure and poise to spare. VanWinkle is practically hidden under her elaborate flower girl hat in the opening number, but doesn’t let her star remain dimmed for long. She’s a gracious Eliza, leaving room enough for others to shine right alongside her. VanWinkle’s presence brings to mind actresses who played Eliza in the past, yet she makes the character her own. She presents a perfect leading lady.

VanWinkle’s leading counterpart is Greg White as Higgins. Higgins is the uptight tutor who helps Eliza ditch her cockney accent. Eliza wishes to sound like a real lady so she can work in a proper flower shop, instead of peddling petals on the streets of London. Determined to prove his abilities as a linguist, he sets out to turn the street urchin-like girl into a charm he can carry on his arm. Higgins wagers his friend Colonel Pickering that in six months, he can create a verifiable Lady in Eliza. Together they plan to pass her off as a duchess and impress royalty and their rich peers in the process.

It would be easy to fall into the shadow cast by VanWinkle’s performance, but White holds his own. White is a confident Higgins who is doggedly sure of himself, despite his obvious character flaws. White’s character is accidentally loveable, completely oblivious to the aspects that make him so frustrating. White, too has an impressive vocal range and employs a quirky cadence to his dialogue. White’s musical numbers involve moments of melodic speaking, where he’s not exactly singing, but not outright talking. It’s different, noticeable, and adds a unique touch to his performance. Together, White and VanWinkle portray a love-hate relationship that keeps the audience engaged and laughing throughout the show. They’re a wonderful pair!

Higgins’ confidant Pickering is played by David Fletcher-Hall. Fletcher-Hall is sweet and jovial. He cares for Eliza and their exchanges are warm. Fletcher-Hall serves as the opposite to White’s brashness. He’s also one of the many comic reliefs in the show, and his timing is perfect.

The unconquerable Stephen Hilton plays Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle. Hilton is lively and spirited. He’s a crowd pleaser and scene stealer, a stand out in a cast of standouts. An unfortunate microphone mishap causes the audience to miss several of Hilton’s funniest moments in Act I. Like the true professional he is, Hilton carries on and projects his voice into the back of the house. Fortunately his microphone is back in working order by Act II, and the performance goes off without another hitch.

Charlotte Franklin is Mrs. Higgins, the no-nonsense mother of the professor. Franklin brings everyone back down to earth, especially her son, and the result is entertainment at its finest. Franklin is a delight and an ally to Eliza. Franklin expands on that relationship and becomes another audience favorite, saving the day in Act II. Likewise, Renee Krapff as Mrs. Pearce, head housekeeper to Higgins, becomes fast-friends with Eliza. Krapff is engaging and stern, a tough woman to be reckoned with.

Cody Dent plays Freddy, a lovesick stair warmer who waits for Eliza outside the door at the professor’s home. Dent’s puppy-dog devotion is endearing without being pitiful. Dent’s duet with VanWinkle is one to look forward to! Rachel Nicholes is seamless as Freddy’s mother Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, as well as an impressive ensemble dancer.

Several noteworthy scenes occur with the Male Quartet, comprised of ensemble members Sean Steele, Sam Briggs, Peter Fischaber, and Clayton J. Blair. The four bring lovely harmonies to the already outstanding show. They complement Eliza and each other wonderfully, and are a humorous and energetic group.

The large ensemble, powerhouse cast, and gorgeous musical and dance numbers could not come together without brilliant directing. It’s just too large a ship to steer. Luckily, UCO has the Tony, Emmy and Academy Award winning Tony Walton at the helm. Walton’s professional background and keen eye for detail has produced a beautiful, breathtaking musical.

Though based in 1913, and popularized in the 50s and 60s, My Fair Lady resonates with modern audiences. It’s a truly coming of age tale, and young people everywhere can relate to the endeavors and dreams of Eliza. The struggles of disadvantage, and the hope of rising above, are inspirational and universal experiences. Though it’s an old show, it feels fresh and relevant. There are elements of classism and obvious moments of sexism in the show, and they’re eye opening. This musical serves as a reminder of how far we’ve come as a society, as well as solidifying how far we have  to go.

I’d be remiss not to mention the fabulous talent that made up the large ensemble. They sing and dance their hearts out for three full hours, and they make the show the success that it is. Listed here in full are the wonderful ensemble members:

Gabrielle Alspaugh, Sam Briggs, Odra Chapman, Elizabeth Dragoo, Tyler Dunkleberger, Easton Edwards, Peter Fischaber, DJ Fortner, Eli Fortney, Greg Gore, Summer Hilburn, Sonnet Lamb, Abigail Manners, Mica Martinez, Dean McSpadden, Graeme Morrison, Rachel Nicholes, Jules Reed, Morgan Rothwell, Cassandra Schafer, Halsey Shelley, Maurice Simmons, Sean Steele, Tyler Treat, Jessica Vanek

The understudies are Morgan Rothwell as Eliza, Dean McSpadden as Higgins and Pickering, Rachel Nicholes as Mrs. Higgins, Easton Edwards as Freddy, and Summer Hilburn as Mrs. Pearce.

My Fair Lady is triumphant, with a gorgeous set designed by Tony Walton and Kristy Benson. Spot-on costumes designed by Alyssa Couturier. Steven Smeltzer choreographs. It’s quite “loverly” indeed!

Always… Patsy Cline Back By Popular Demand

Published May 22, 2018 | By Adrienne Proctor

One of the nation’s most produced musicals is back this summer at the Pollard Theatre. Always… Patsy Cline is the true story of one of America’s most treasured musical icons and celebrates the beauty of unlikely friendship. The Pollard is closing out their excellent 31st season with this popular show, running June 8th – 30th in Guthrie. The Pollard is welcoming back Kara Chapman and Jodi Nestander to reprise the roles of the legendary songstress Patsy and her pen-pal turned best friend Louise. This production, returning by popular demand after a sold-out run in 2015, is directed by Timothy Stewart. Stewart says “I believe audiences will come back, or for the first time, and enjoy the music of Patsy Cline and be thoroughly entertained.”

A dynamic cast and classic American tunes are in store for those new and returning Pollard patrons. Chapman and Nestander are joined by a talented creative team, to include Todd S. Malicoate as Music Director, Michael James on Scenic and Costume Design, Michael Long in Lighting Design, Timothy Stewart in a dual role in Property Design and Directing, and Jared Blount in Sound Design.

Patsy Cline was only thirty years old when she suffered an untimely death in a plane crash in Tennessee in 1963. She was at the height of her popularity, and her fan-base, which included well known musicians and celebrities alike, mourned her passing.  Much like Elvis, John Lennon, and many of the world’s great artists, her popularity only climbed with her death. Cline’s career spanned nearly twenty years while she lived, and today, 55 years after her death, she is still regarded as one of the most successful and influential vocalists in American history.

Behind the scenes of record charts, famous photographs and the glamour of celebrity life, there was a die-hard fan who became a life-long friend to Cline. This musical is a celebration of their friendship. Based on the real letters they sent back and forth to each other, audiences will see a side of Patsy Cline that much of the world never knew.

Many of Cline’s most infamous songs are also featured in the show. Patrons can look forward to hearing Walkin’ After Midnight, Crazy, Sweet Dreams and more, as they were originally intended- live and in person. The musical numbers will be an added treat to the production.

Patsy Cline’s life and music is tainted by the tragedy that was her early death. Even with the iconic legacy she left, we simply cannot view one without the other. The beauty of this show is that it remains true to that detail. Life, death, friendship, and yes, music, are all important aspects of this human condition, and deserve a narrative all on their own.

The Lonesome West: Entertainment with a Side of Caution

Published May 21, 2018 | By Adrienne Proctor 

Martin McDonagh is a playwright whose works are famous for two things- being based in Ireland, and violence. The second to last production of Carpenter Square Theatre’s 34th season, The Lonesome West, is no exception to that rule. Based in Galway, Ireland in 1997, The Lonesome West features two brothers who just can’t seem to get along. Their father has just been killed in an ambiguously accidental shooting by one of his two sons. Because of this, and the addition of two other recent deaths, the priest is having trouble coming to terms with the realities of the parish he’s attempting to shepherd. 

Michael Relland stars as Coleman Connor, the elder brother, and the one who’s done the shooting. Relland’s task is to portray one of the most unlikeable characters ever created for the stage, with nary a redeeming quality to be found. Though not an easy task, Relland makes him enjoyable. Coleman is never sober, and Relland plays the stumbling, father-killing drunk with charm and humor. Rick Lockett is Valene, the younger brother and the more sympathetic of the two. Lockett is quirky and bouncy, light on his feet and in his speaking tone. Lockett and Relland both banter back and forth, at times tussling physically on the stage. Their connection seems natural, like a brotherly interaction. Their comedic timing is perfect, and they both bring several lighthearted moments to an overall tragically dark play. The presence of love, competition, and animosity are reminiscent of brothers at all ages, a dynamic that begins at childhood and continues long into their adult lives. 

Matthew Moreillon is Father Welsh, the disenfranchised town priest. Moreillon’s character is a sad sight. He’s struggling with genuine concerns that fall mostly on deaf ears with the self-centered brothers. A brilliant aspect of Moreillon’s performance is his monologue in the second act. Poignant, effective, and touching, it’s a turning point in the show and an emotional punch to the audience’s collective gut. Moreillon delivers the scene with true sensitivity and emotion. 

Katlyn Skaggs is Girleen Kelleher*, a schoolgirl selling bootlegged booze for extra cash. Skaggs is a breath of fresh air, brightening the darkness that envelopes the entire production. Skaggs starts off sweet and harmless, rolling her Irish accent in a cutesy cadence that sounds like a kitten’s purr. That empty cuteness soon gives way to a powerful force of emotion. All the tragedy of a lovesick teenager is amplified by reality as darker events unfold. Skaggs rips away the school-girl image with force. She’ll tear your heart out and can cry like no other. Quite simply, she steals every scene she’s in. 

The four actors in the show speak authentic Irish accents. The accents become a fifth character, as they’re a focal point for any audience member who doesn’t often hear Irish accents. All the actors keep up the accents, even when yelling, and it’s impressive to hear how authentic they sound. Often, however, the accents are too good, the 1997 era jokes are too dated, and the European terminology is too unfamiliar. What comes across in these moments is dialogue that is nearly impossible to understand. Several would-be funny moments fall flat, and all the actors are guilty of the mishap at least once.  

If a show is only as strong as its weakest link, consider this production solid. Despite the slight accent debacle, every actor is consistent and strong. They work well together. Rhonda Clark, artistic director of Carpenter Square, steps in as director for this Rated R production. Clark’s direction has produced a dynamic cast. Not even a tricky prop can throw them off. The oven that falls open out of turn several times doesn’t faze anyone, and they work with it easily. 

Given the subject matter of this play, a word of caution must be offered. Consider your own personal triggers before attending. The Lonesome West, while handled with great sensitivity and honesty, still contains several cautionary scenes. Elements of domestic violence, abuse, murder, depression and suicide are all featured in the production. Tragedy ensues and not all ends are tied up neatly. Proceed with your own comfort in mind. And remember, the ultimate goal in the theatre is to be entertained and moved. That is something you’ll find here in abundance. 

*As a production note, Alexis Perry alternates alongside Katlyn Skaggs as Girleen Kelleher. 

To complement the production of The Lonesome West, CST is displaying lovely artwork by local artist Heidi Ghassempour. Ghassempour’s works adorn the walls of the lobby and are worth a stop before or after the show.