MOUNT VERNON — One of the many challenges facing a local or regional theater company is taking an iconic production and putting its own stamp on it.
Lyric Light Opera intends to do just that.
The play is “My Fair Lady,” which will begin a six-show run Saturday at McIntyre Hall on the Skagit Valley College campus. It’s safe to say it’s as familiar to audiences as any musical in American theater history.
Much of that familiarity is due to the immediate success of the original production, which opened in New York in 1956. “My Fair Lady” is an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” in which a Cockney English flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, is interested in becoming a proper English lady.
Toward that end, Eliza takes speech lessons from Henry Higgins, a phoneticist who believes society separates its social classes based on a person’s ability — or inability — to speak properly. Eliza and Henry make progress, but they’re not exactly each other’s biggest admirer.
“My Fair Lady” is rife with musical-theater classics: “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” “Get Me to the Church on Time” and “The Rain In Spain.”
The role of Henry Higgins earned Rex Harrison numerous awards, including a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical and an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1964.
Playing Eliza Doolittle propelled Julie Andrews to stardom, as she won a Tony for her work in 1957 as well. In the 1964 film version (for which Harrison won his Oscar), Audrey Hepburn was cast as Eliza, but Andrews won the Academy Award that year for “Mary Poppins” while “My Fair Lady” won the Best Picture Oscar.
Why take on a play so potentially daunting? Several reasons, said director Brenda Mueller.
“‘My Fair Lady’ is such a perfectly written musical, that in some ways is easy to put on the stage,” Mueller said. “It’s very succinctly, compactly and well written, the music is so well written. And, because I had Greg Stone — a Broadway actor — coming into it, that I knew would be perfect for Henry Higgins.”
Mueller noted that Lyric Light Opera received a big boost from Utah Festival Opera, which just finished its own run of “My Fair Lady,” using the company’s sets, hats, costumes and more.
“So the ‘spectacle’ factor was there, and I knew we would have that,” Mueller said. “I knew we would have the actors, which we do. This is our strongest cast ever, from top to bottom. So ‘My Fair Lady’ was perfect for this time.”