Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “My Fair Lady” is simply smashing. This is epic musical theater production, beautifully streamlined on the theater’s thrust stage, yet filled with lush costuming, good ol’ fashioned high-stepping dance numbers and truly remarkable performances by its lead actors and seriously hard-working ensemble.
The highly anticipated musical opened to a nearly sold out crowd on July 4th weekend, one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year. That’s no little thing.
The production starts with the performances of its two dynamic leads.
Jillian Kates gives a phenomenal performance as Eliza Doolittle, the poor flower girl who becomes a lady by learning how to speak properly. The luminous Kates is completely winning in this iconic role with a sincere approach to her character and terrific comic timing. She completely owns it, from cockney flower girl to undeniable princess. She’s aided by Charlotte Yetman’s beautiful costuming, which helps tell the story. And can she sing! Just when you think its impossible she pulls out a high “C” at the end of “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
Her onstage nemesis and acting partner Tom Ford is equally phenomenal. He powers through his Henry Higgins with an amazing energy and laser-like focus as he articulates a remarkable amount of words, while remaining funny and in his way irrepressibly charming.
The supporting cast is equally wonderful. M.A. Taylor pulls out not one but two show-stoppers (three if you count his delightful scene with Ford’s Higgins where he spouts he moral philosophy) with dash and perfectly timed humor.
Aled Davies is a jovial and warm Col. Pickering, who’s always in Eliza’s corner, as is Laura Perrotta as Mrs. Higgins. (Also a nod to the delightful Lucy, a remarkably well-possessed Havanese who makes an appearance.) Lynn Allison is a curt, wise and understanding Mrs. Pearce, and Lynn Robert Berg makes a delightfully oily Zoltan Karpathy.
The rest of the ensemble is dynamic and spot on, with accents for every role as they move from Cockney street people to Higgins’ staff to the rich and famous of London.
Director Victoria Bussert truly has produced one of the classic of the American musical theater canon. She met the challenge of working on his amphitheater stage, where sets and other production elements of the genre can only get in the way. You don’t need opulent sets, bells and whistles, etc. You just need talent. And she has bushels to work with in this spitfire cast.
Set in the 1930s, her production brings it to a new generation and remind the rest of us just how relevant and timely this classic always will be, as it dissects the continuing problems and debates about class, education and gender equity with insight that will never get old.
She’s helped by Gregory Daniels’ delightfully fun and energetic dance numbers and designer Jeff Herrmann’s perfectly minimalist sketches of London and Higgins’ home. Kathleen Tague’s dialect coaching keeps the accents believable and consistent. And again, Yetman’s costumes are richly gorgeous and fun. The hats for the Ascot scene are worth the price of admission alone.
ISF’s ‘My Fair Lady’
Dates through Aug. 26. ISF Amphitheater, 5657 Warm Springs Ave., Boise. Greenshows start at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays. $20 to $40 general, $13 for kids 6 to 17, $20 for students with ID. 336-9221, IdahoShakespeare.org.