WEST VALLEY CITY — It’ s perfectly natural to walk into a theater with certain expectations, certain requirements that will tell you whether or not the company performed this show as it ought to be done. As a theatre practitioner that can be frustrating. Do you reject those notions or do you welcome them? To be successful in this industry I think that whichever option you choose you need to embrace that choice wholeheartedly. The Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley has been wildly successful, I’d say, at welcoming the audience’s idea of what a production ought to be and delivering.
My Fair Lady is the latest production to grace the circle stage at the Hale. It follows the encounter of Dr. Henry Higgins, world reknowned linguist, and Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl he aspires to transform into a proper, genteel lady. You’ve likely seen the film starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. The music is classic and undoubtedly you’ve hummed a bar or two before. Surely one of your favorite moments is watching Miss Doolittle, bound in black and white linens, and a hat to top them all, shout uncouth words of encouragement to the racehorse Dover. Hale’s production delivers it all.
This is director Christopher Clark‘s debut at the West Valley stage. A professor of theatre at Utah Valley University, his work has been engaging Utah County audiences for years. I’ll admit, I’m a fan. While I don’t think this production showcased his usual inventiveness I did see a tight cast and clear vision for the production.
I fell in love with DeLaney Westfall in Act One as Eliza Doolittle. Her charm and presence on stage was only surpassed by that gorgeous voice. While she certainly commanded the stage in later numbers, the gentility in “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” is what grabbed my heart and had me hooked for the rest of the act. The Hale will do well to hold onto her for as long as they can.
Mark Knowles brings a drive to Henry Higgins that sets the pace for the entire show. His talk-songs were delightful and his chattering camaraderie with Bruce Bredeson as Col. Pickering kept a smile in my eye the entire night. In fact, the entire cast was simply a joy to watch. It’s some of the finest acting I’ve seen at the Hale. Previous productions have generally left me pining for better direction and acting—generally, design was the primary focus—but if this show lends itself to a new pattern, I’m excited.
As for the design, the costumes (Suzanne Carling) were a lovely reference to what we’ve grown accustomed to in the film. Henry Higgins study was delightfully cluttered with assorted contraptions. The rotating stage helped include all audience members during the larger group numbers. Regarding Jenny Barlow‘s choreography, it wasn’t amazing. But I’m not sure anything more balletic/acrobatic/athletic would suit this production.
My only complaint for the evening has to do with the script. I finished the evening baffled as to the point of Act Two. There didn’t seem to be any driving force in the story. Act One has a goal: get Eliza to that gala and have her fool everyone. I was invested in these characters delighted by their stories. But I wasn’t invested enough to support Act Two with my simple intrigue. Yes, “Get Me To The Church On Time” is a joy to watch and David Stensrud is a delight as Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle. But overall, I was all but checked out after intermission. I simply didn’t care. And that’s a little disheartening. I’ve been wondering if it’s a fault in the script, or if the production could have done something more to keep me engaged for more than just nostalgia’s sake. Perhaps. In any case, this really was a delightful evening at the theatre. If you’re a fan of the film (or past stage productions) you’ll likely smile throughout.