When Haywood Arts Regional Theatre opens “My Fair Lady” this weekend, look for the Waynesville theatre to outdo itself once again with elaborate sets, more than 100 period costumes, a full orchestra, enchanting music, and a huge cast.
Director Steve Lloyd, who is once again at the helm for HART’s summer blockbuster, landed two amazing actors for the lead roles — 19-year-old Clara Burrus (a Pisgah High School grad and current UNC-Greensboro music major) as Eliza Doolittle and Christopher Lynn, a TV and stage actor, as Professor Henry Higgins. This is Burrus’ first major role in a HART show, though she’s been involved in several HART productions in the past including “Parade,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Ragtime.” Lynn, meanwhile, moved to the Asheville area two years ago with his wife and three children. He’s appeared in “Law and Order” and “All My Children,” and for several years played the leading male role of Raoul in the European production of “Phantom of the Opera” in Switzerland.
“My Fair Lady,” which is based on George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” offers audiences a look at two sides of British Edwardian society — the upper crust aristocracy that attends horse races at the Ascot while parading around in elegant fashion and the lower class of servants, street peddlers and Cockney-accented flower girls like Eliza Doolittle. In 1912 England, the setting for the play, few if any from the lower class could ever rise above their station.
But Professor Henry Higgins wants to change that so he wagers a bet to train Eliza so that one day she might live the life of a high-class lady. At first, it seems implausible and quite comical, but over time, Eliza pulls it off — though she lapses from King’s English into Cockney with hilarious results.
Higgins, a linguistics expert, trains Eliza to speak “properly” by changing her dialect with phrases like “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”
Somehow it works, but what happens when she wants to return to her Cockney roots? Can she be a social butterfly or will she be trapped in her own cocoon?
In some ways, Lloyd explained, it’s like the small town kid who goes off to a big city college, doesn’t seem to fit in to that world, and then returns home and can’t quite fit in there either.
Burrus has wrestled with this situation as a college student from small town Canton moving to Greensboro, the third largest city in the state.
“People make fun of my accent all the time,” Burrus said, but she’s learned to adjust. Some do it better than others, she added.
While it may be the dream of some girls to play the role of Eliza — to wear the fabulous gowns and hobnob with the wealthy — there’s more to it for Eliza than climbing the social ladder.
“It becomes about wanting to do it for Professor Higgins,” Burrus said, hinting at the subtle love story that slowly develops in the play.
While Eliza finds herself awkwardly navigating through the class system, so does Professor Higgins.
“They both are used to being in their own little bubble,” Lynn said.
Unlike other stories that offer rags-to-riches glory or king-for-a-day fantasies (i.e. Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper or teen flicks like “The Princess Diaries”), “My Fair Lady” is a complex study of society, relationships and the power we place on language.
“This play is not that simple,” Lynn said. Much like the studious character he plays, Lynn finds new facets to explore after each rehearsal.
Though the professor tries to change Eliza and Eliza feels the need to change, neither can fully leave behind the worlds in which they live.
“They don’t completely change; they find a way to meld together,” Lynn said.
And what a pair they become, singing and dancing — and sure to awe audiences. In addition to the quips and snappy dialogue, the show’s music — a product of the legendary Broadway team of Jay Lerner and Frederic Lowe — features charming favorites such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “With a Little Bit of Luck.”
“My Fair Lady” opens July 7 and runs through July 23. Shows run Thursday, Friday and Saturday with 7:30 p.m. performances and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students ($6 for students on Thursday and Sunday performances).
To reserve or purchase tickets, call the HART box office at 828.456.6322 between 1 and 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The HART box office and theatre are located in the Performing Arts Center on 250 Pigeon Street on Highway 276 South in Waynesville. For more information about upcoming HART shows, go to the Web site at www.harttheatre.com.