PERRY — It’s always a tricky endeavor to present a classic musical. The audience knows all of the songs and come with expectations it also can be hard to live up to those expectations. That’s what makes the current production of My Fair Lady so impressive at Heritage Theatre in Perry. I’ve seen a lot of plays and musicals at Heritage over the years and this might be the most impressive thing they’ve ever staged. It is an absolutely excellent piece of community theatre.

Show closes March 23, 2024.

My Fair Lady is one of those shows that completely relies on its two stars for success. If the Eliza and Henry are not firing on all cylinders there’s little the rest of the production can do to save the show. Luckily both Nicole Frederick as Eliza and Russell Nielsen as Henry are excellent at Heritage. They not only play their individual roles with an abandon you don’t often see at this level but they have terrific chemistry allowing me to buy some of the more dated elements of the script written in the 1950s. There are a lot of little details I loved in their performances. For example, when Henry and Pickering are singing “You Did It,” Frederick is off to the side as Eliza and even though she isn’t being lit her body language and facial expressions get more tense and uncomfortable as the song persists. It is this kind of careful acting that separates an amateur from an accomplished trained performer.

I also really loved Eliza’s entrance to the Wimpole Street house with her large hat and proud disposition. One can feel this is the most important thing she’s ever done in her life and Frederick captures that stoic but sweet situation. She has a beautiful classic soprano voice and I enjoyed all her songs but probably my favorite is “Without You” as she is a tower of strength standing up to the professor. Also she is pretty good with the cockney accent.

Nielsen is also great with the rather unlikable role of Henry bringing just enough humanity into the role. In our opening sequence in Covent Garden he is animated using his hands and whole body to express the song “Why Can’t the English” rather than just singing as one might expect from a small regional production of My Fair Lady. But by the end of the show as Eliza is missing, his energy has changed to tired and sad. I’ve always said that “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” is the key number of My Fair Lady because selling it is the only way we can accept the ending, if we can accept it all. Nielsen’s rendition of the song was really lovely and I actually bought that he missed Eliza!

The rest of the cast at Heritage was strong with Daren Saunders playing a convincing drunk in Alfred P Doolittle (something that can be lacking in our fair state.) He is funny in the role while still being a total self-interested jerk that it works for the character. I particularly enjoyed his “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” with dynamic choreography from Janelle Wiser.

Speaking of the choreography, the dancing was dynamic and fun throughout the show with the highlight being at the Embassy ball where not only are the characters dancing but so much is happening in the story during those dances. This is Eliza’s big test and we can see her nervous confidence within Frederick’s performance and it’s captivating to follow her across the stage as she goes from Henry to the Prince to finally Zolton (played by Spencer Stevens.)

The costumes coordinated by Ysabel Birmingham are impressive throughout, but I particularly appreciated the Ascot section with 15 actors on the stage all in the black-and-white period appropriate clothes (including hats, umbrellas and shoes) traditional for this scene. Frederick is great in this scene because she’s trying so hard to be genteel but failing that it is no wonder Freddy finds her charming. The only real problem with the costumes is they were having some kind of issue with Eliza’s wig. It kept slipping and flopping over in weird ways making it a strange shape on her head. They mostly fixed it for the final section of the show but it definitely looked odd in some scenes.

Some of the supporting performances were not at the level of Frederick and Nielsen but they are all learning and that’s part of the charm of a community theatre like Heritage. I definitely felt like everyone involved was trying their hardest and that’s all you can really ask. Director Beth Bruner brought out the best in her cast and crew and that made it a joy to watch.

Set designer Jacob Bruner also deserves praise for his great work on the backgrounds with a sketchbook aesthetic to them. Whether it is Covenant Garden, Higgins library or the Embassy ball they added just the right bit of a nostalgic note to a play from the 1950s set in 1910.

My Fair Lady at the Heritage would be a great show to take a family to and introduce them to one of the foundation pieces of musical theatre. It’s excellent and deserves to have a big crowd every night it is showing. With a little bit of luck, hopefully they’ll get it!

My Fair Lady plays at the Heritage Theatre (2505 South Highway 89, Perry) on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 March 1-23, 2024 with matinees on March 9 & 16 at 2 PM.  Tickets are $10-16. For more information, visit