Having experienced many productions of Lerner & Loewe’s classic “My Fair Lady,” and only a few great ones, one can conclude that budget, set design, costumes and a wonderful orchestra never have been triggering factors.
Rather, it is the chemistry shared by the characters Eliza Dolittle and Henry Higgins that draws theater patrons into this wonderful story and, more, makes them care.
Every performance is a vital building block. But this is a play in which the stars must align.
And with the help of Ann Marie White as Eliza and John Davis as Higgins, each guided by director Rebecca Ballinger, Moonlight Dinner Theater’s current production at the LHUCA Icehouse is nothing short of loverly.
Or to use the play’s vernacular: They did it!
When introduced, Higgins has made himself comfortable on a corner near an opera house. He is a linguist — more specifically, a phoneticist — studying an array of dialects. But when Cockney flower girl Eliza is told by friends to be careful because there is a man writing down every word she says, she assumes he represents the law and cries out, “I’m a good girl, I am.”
Higgins soon meets a colleague, Col. Hugh Pickering, and, being a boastful chap, says that, given six months, he could transform young Eliza into a polished, well-spoken woman whom many might mistake for a princess.
At the very least, she would become the sort of woman who could find employment as an assistant in a flower shop — and no longer be reduced to selling, or begging, on street corners.
He has touched on her dream, and she will put him to the test.
The play earns classic status in large part because of the book by Alan Jay Lerner. He had kept the story conversational while adapting George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” and the dialogue just naturally segues into song.
Davis was born to play Higgins. He has the swagger of someone who is so in tune with his own discoveries and victories that he has lost touch with the feelings of those around him.
Davis’ Higgins eventually proves to be more surprised than anyone to realize that he cares for this woman, that, in fact, he needs her.
Indeed, Davis portrays the character as egotistical and misogynistic, yet must maintain that spark of humanity that allows the audience to also view him as needy. This is one of Davis’ very best performances.
Mind you, it is not difficult to understand Higgins’ feelings for Eliza Dolittle.
White gives a star-making performance as Eliza, nailing the early Cockney dialect and only gradually losing it via Higgins’ challenging lessons.
She makes certain that Eliza maintains her pride (“Just You Wait”) and sense of humor, with an inner beauty bursting onto the surface when White again shares her glorious voice and sings “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
Is it any wonder that she also touches the hearts of others, the most obvious being Freddy, played by Travis Burge?
There is a touch of overacting requested by the script, and Burge delivers a man smitten to the point of swooning, even waiting outside her door and singing “On the Street Where You Live.”
Rob Holton captures the exuberance felt by Eliza’s drunken father. With the support of friends, not to mention choreography by Kyla Olson, Holton delivers the play’s more spirited examples of song-and-dance. It would be difficult to pick a favorite, given his performances of “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”
Jonathan Fruge expresses his frustration as Pickering with an oft-repeated, exaggerated frown that is good for a smile. Karen Dolter is solid as Higgin’s housekeeper Mrs. Pierce, and Kim Ansolabehere, as Mrs. Higgins, is a delight, believably tickled pink by Eliza’s influence on her son.
Ballinger makes use of minimal set changes at the Icehouse and still transports the audience to a horse race for the upper class and a ballroom, where White’s demeanor as Eliza is meant to at least temporarily disguise her upbringing.
Those settings are as accepted as Higgins’ study, and home to just as many laughs.
Larry Walker’s seven-piece “orchestra,” far from professional, is an asset, and the costume design by Sharon Holton is thoughtfully, and effectively, conceived.
Still, this production is carried by White and Davis, who both invest in their characters so believably, and at times so tenderly. The play’s closing line, delivered by Higgins, provides one of Broadway’s magical endings.
Happily, a bit of that loverly magic has been re-discovered by Ballinger and her entire cast.
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Attraction: Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady,” adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” and staged as a Moonlight Dinner Theater production.
When: Friday-Saturday. Meal at 6:30 p.m.; production follows.
Where: LHUCA’s Icehouse, 511 Ave. J.
Director: Rebecca Ballinger.
Meal: Cicken coq au vin dinner prepared by Honeychild Catering Service.
Reserved seats: $68.75, $58.50 and $48.50 for dinner and show.
Tickets: Select-A-Seat outlets at Amigo’s Supermarket, Dollar Western Wear, Lubbock Memorial Civic Center, Market Street, Ralph’s Records, Texas Tech Student Union’s ticket booth and United Supermarkets.
Information: 770-2000 or toll free 735-1288.