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(Posted 1 p.m., April 12)

Ambitious production of Broadway classic hits all the right notes
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Eliza Doolittle, who is played by Natasha Gaucher, dances in the arms of the Prince of Transylvania, played by Brady Mackenzie, during the Sir Wilfrid Laurier production of 'My Fair Lady'. Fred Sherwin Photo

When Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School drama teacher Sonya Schrum decided her class should take on the Broadway classic "My Fair Lady", she had no idea how ambitious the choice would end up being.

With a cast of 31, a production crew of 23 and a 27-piece orchestra, they defiantly had their work cut out for themselves. But thanks to the dedication and commitment of the entire cast and crew, including Grade 11 student Amanda Collie who led a five member team in designing and making over 100 costumes, they somehow managed to pull it off.

The result is a wonderfully entertaining production that will be revised in a somewhat scaled-down version in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.

The last of four performances at Sir Wilfrid Laurier was held in front of full house on Friday night.

Just like the Broadway production, the play opened with the entire cast promenading in front of Convent Garden, resplendent in their Edwardian garb. It is during the opening scene that the audience is introduced to Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl with a strong cockney accent.

While she attempts to sell some flowers to another of the lead characters, Colonel Pickering, she notices another man furiously taking notes while he eavesdrops on them. Thinking he's a policeman, the young Eliza admonishes him. But as it turns out he's a phonetics professor who specializes in identifying different English dialects which he believes are an abomination on proper English. This leads to the first musical number of the play "Why Can't the English?" sung by Ryan Griffith who is perfectly cast as the scientifically detached Professor Higgins.

Rather than sing in the traditional sense, Griffith sings in a speaking voice that is perfect for the character and in perfect balance for the incredible voice of Natasha Gaucher, who managed to overcome treatment for ovarian cancer during the past year to take on the very demanding role of Eliza Doolittle.

While the treatments had the effect of deepening her voice, it created an interesting counter-balance to the higher female voices in the cast which worked out perfectly.

Gaucher's voice, particularly in her first solo "Just You Wait", was jaw-dropping.

Other performances that stood out for me was Kirsten Mainwood, whose portrayal of Professor Higgin's maid, Mrs. Pearce almost stole the shoe, and Liam Scwisberg, who played Doolittle's admiring suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and has arguably the best singing voice in the cast.

The rest of the cast did a great job as well, including Katie Gratton as Mrs. Hopkins; Connor Maloiney as Eliza's hard-drinking father Alfred Doolittle;and Brady Mackenzie, who plays the Prince of Transylvania, a former student and rival to Professor Higgins. But where the rest of the cast really shone was during the chorus numbers starting with "I Could Have Danced All Night", "Ascot Gavotte" and "Get Me To The Church On Time".

Other musical highlights included the "Rain in Spain" duet between Eliza and Professor Higgins; Higgins' solo "Hymn to Him"; and, of course, Freddy's solo "On the Street Where You Live" sung by the aforementioned Liam Scwisberg.

But what separated the production from many of the other high school plays I've seen this year was the costuming, the orchestral accompaniment and the individual headseat mics which allowed the audience to hear every word.

The Sir Wil production of "My Fair Lady" is only the sixth Canadian high school production that has been invited to perform in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival over the past 20 years.

The Fringe, as it is known in England, is the world's largest arts festival spanning 25 days and totaling more than 2,695 shows from 47 countries in 279 venues.

The invitation was actually extended to the theatre production class last spring. Schrum whole-heartedly accepted the invitation after attending the festival last summer.

"For those students who can make it, it's going to be the experience of a lifetime," says Schrum.

Several members of the cast of 'My Fair Lady' will be taking the production to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. Fred Sherwin Photo

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

 

 

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