My Fair Lady at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake: What a show!
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE – I’d go again in a heartbeat.
Well, maybe not a heartbeat. But soon. And with a smile on my face and a tune on my tongue.
I had a friend in university who was in love with My Fair Lady and we listened to the soundtrack (on vinyl) over and over in 1974-75. You’d have to be tone deaf not to appreciate the music, but somehow I’d never seen the play.
That oversight was corrected on Thursday, thanks to a preview at the Shaw Festival down in Niagara-on-the-Lake (which is, by the way, already beginning to show its daffodils and banks of tulips – just in time for the peek-a-boo spring we’ve been having). It was simply outstanding.
Deborah Hay belts out a tune and does a great job with Eliza Doolittle, while Ben Campbell is absolutely first-rate as Henry Higgins, dripping with English upper class sarcasm and pretense. He’s also an excellent singer, which is why this production brings in Lerner and Loewe tunes that Rex Harrison didn’t want to sing in the movie, him being Rex Harrison and all.
They do some other updates as well, such as giving some of the London street folks a 1970’s punk rock look and letting Colonel Pickering, expertly played by Patrick Galligan, stir up a bit of an interest in Higgins’ delightful mother. Doolittle’s father is a true ham in the best sense of the word and is marvelously played by Neil Barclay.
The music, of course, speaks for itself.
Galligan met with several travel media types after the performance and talked about the production and Shaw and the Rolling Stones and acting in general. He said this is his first musical, and he doesn’t do badly as Pickering in the pipes department. He’s no Campbell (whom he lists as one of his best friends) but he doesn’t have to be.
Galligan said he enjoys playing new parts but also gets a charge out of putting his own spin on tried-and-true characters such as Pickering.
“We all play a part some time that someone else has made iconic,” he said. “You can’t be intimidated or you’d run out of interesting things to do.”
Galligan, a dashing sort, has turned Pickering into something more like a hip and caring 50-year-old, versus a stuffy man of 70 or more. And it’s a nice touch.
As for the Stones, he said he found out last year that Mick Jagger is a George Bernard Shaw fan when the Shaw Festival asked him if they could use “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in one of their plays. He said “yes” quickly and the music was used in Doctor’s Dilemma.
I didn’t know the public can get tours of the Shaw Theatre complex, but we got a sample of what the public can get for a measly five bucks, and it was a huge treat. We got to see folks making some of the incredible costumes they use in various plays, including some over-the-top, multi-coloured outfits for the Ascot race scene – one of the highlights of My Fair Lady, which runs from May 25 to Oct. 30. We also watched a couple of other workers weaving human hair into fitted wigs that actors will use.
Sherry Naismith-Jones (see photo) is a licensed hairdresser who has been at the Shaw for 33 years and says it takes her 30 to 40 hours to weave four or five colours of human hair into a realistic, fitted wig. It takes a lot of patience, but she seems to enjoy it, and it’s always a kick to chat with someone about something they love. (Mind you, the ONLY thing I didn't really like in My Fair Lady was Eliza's hair, which looked too much like something from the 1920's for my liking, but there you go).
My suggestion is that you do yourself a favour this spring or summer and head down to Niagara for the Shaw. Catch My Fair Lady or one of the other shows (they have three Shaw offerings this year as they celebrate the 50th anniversary of the festival: Candida, Heartbreak House and On the Rocks, plus such notables as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and My Fair Lady, which is of course based on Shaw’s Pygmalion). Stay in one of the Vintage Hotels such as Prince of Wales or the Pillar and Post or Queen’s Landing, which has a great patio overlooking the Niagara River, and try some of the local restaurants and pubs. I had a fab calamari and pizza dinner Thursday night at the Old Winery on Niagara Stone Rd. before heading back to T.O., and I’d recommend it to anyone.