My Fair Lady set to enthral audiences

Lines learned, glitches banished, the cast and crew of My Fair Lady are ready for the spotlights.

Henry Higgins (John Kidder) attempts to teach Eliza Doolittle (Nancy Duchaine) to speak properly in My Fair Lady.

by Barbara Roden

By the time you read this, the more than 50 cast and crew members of My Fair Lady – produced by the Winding Rivers Arts and Performance Society – will be staring down opening night on Nov. 20. Auditions were held in early May, so it’s been almost seven months since we all embarked on the process; but suddenly a night that was comfortably far off in the distance is upon us.

Beginning in November, rehearsals went from being a few individual scenes to a full run-through of the play. This not only brings the full cast together, it gives us an idea of what we’re in the process of creating. And at almost every rehearsal a new piece of set or a new prop appears, as if by magic. There’s even a wax phonograph machine for Henry Higgins’s desk, to the delight of us all.

Costumes have been a major priority since the beginning. Many WRAPS productions are either set in the present day or require few costume changes, but My Fair Lady is set in 1912 London, and some cast members have as many as five complete costume changes. The wardrobe department has been working tirelessly to find, convert, or adapt existing gowns and suits, create elaborate hats for the Ascot scene, and search for accessories such as parasols, walking-sticks, gloves, and jewellery.

We were all “off book” by Nov. 8, which meant we couldn’t have scripts or music on stage with us; but we could still call “Line!” if we dried (forgot a line), or ask Musical Director Michelle Reid to re-start a song if someone forgot the lyrics or missed a cue. Starting on Nov. 8, however, we don’t have that safety net. If anyone forgets a line, she hopes someone else on stage steps in and helps out; if lyrics go missing, the singer hopes he can remember a line and get back into the song.

As a result, the rehearsal on the 8th is . . . not pretty. The first half goes fairly well, prompting 50-minutes’-worth of notes from director Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan. At the end of the second act, however, she tells us she has few notes. “When things don’t go well there’s not much point writing a lot of notes.”

No question about it: act two was ragged. A couple of newbies look somewhat panicked, and I try to reassure them. “It’s okay; this is always the worst rehearsal, when we can’t call for lines,” I tell them. “This is the point where we really wonder if we can do it. And we can.”

There’s a rehearsal two days later, hampered by the absence of Col. Pickering (at work), Freddy Eynsford-Hill (unavailable), Alfred P. Doolittle (in Mexico), and Eliza Doolittle (paged to a fire call during Act One, Scene 2); stage manager Jessica Clement once more gamely steps up and fills in for those missing. On Nov. 12, however, something magical happens.

First of all, WRAPS now has exclusive use of the gym at the former Ashcroft Elementary School, meaning that Jim Duncan and his crew of builders (Monty Downs, Dale Lyon, Jim Rymer, Daniel Collett, and Tim Roden) can swoop in and put up almost all of the set; when the author stops by to see how things are going she’s handed a drill and a bag of screws and asked to help put up the balustrade and finials. This is a huge help to the actors, who now can see exactly where they enter and exit, and what is where on the stage. It’s much easier to lean on a balustrade when it’s actually in place, rather than having to imagine it’s there.

Second, costumes have largely been finalized, and even though we’re a week away from the first dress rehearsal many actors are electing to change into their costumes for each scene. Not only does this tell each actor how much time he or she has to make a costume change, it helps the actors move on stage. A woman wearing a full-length gown or skirt and high heels is going to move differently to one who’s wearing jeans and trainers.

Third, and most important, it all comes together. There are few dropped lines; when a line is forgotten, someone else one stage comes to the rescue. Scene changes go much more smoothly, since Clement has drawn up plans showing who takes what on stage, and brings what off, in every scene. The costumes help to give a real sense of place and time, and at the break between Acts One and Two actor Gerald Young (who plays Freddy) gives the cast a quick waltz lesson, which yours truly – possessed of two left feet – takes part in, even though she’s not in the Embassy Ball scene.

There’s one final run-through on Nov. 14, and then we’re into the final stretch, with a tech rehearsal on Nov. 17, followed by two full dress rehearsals. The next time we do this it will be for real, in front of an audience. Are we ready? Two weeks ago we would have said no; but now? By George, we’ve got it!

My Fair Lady is at the Ashcroft HUB (the former Elementary School) at 7 pm on Nov. 20, 21, 27, and 28, and at 2 pm on Nov. 22. Admission is by donation.

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