Stage & Dance

Theater review: WinterFest’s effective reimagining of ‘My Fair Lady’

Rachel Snyder plays Eliza Doolittle and Matthew Lewis Johnson is Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady.”
Rachel Snyder plays Eliza Doolittle and Matthew Lewis Johnson is Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady.”

Kentucky Conservatory Theatre was finally able to open its production of Lerner and Loewe’s beloved musical My Fair Lady on Sunday evening after a three-day weather delay. The unusual dinner theater space at The Grand Reserve on Manchester Street was filled with the familiar songs and scenarios despite the wintry conditions outside.

Director Wesley Nelson has reimagined this big, elegant musical as an intimate chamber piece, which brings the disturbing interpersonal relationships into sharper focus, harking back to George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the source material for this show. The spacious set, designed by Nelson and Aaron Bowling and lit by Danny Bowling, works well, and the inventive choreography by Jenny Fitzpatrick adds a strong visual element.

Matthew Lewis Johnson is the most recent member of Actors Equity (the professional actors’ union) to ply his wares on a Lexington stage, as our theater community strive for an increasingly professional profile, and his work is high-caliber. He brings curmudgeonly professor Henry Higgins to life without candy-coating the character’s misogyny and myopic self-regard, less charming but more realistic than Rex Harrison’s celebrated interpretation.

Rachel Marie Snyder imbues Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle with psychological truth, portraying her as a complex girl on a journey of self-improvement rather than as a leading lady slumming in a low-class accent, as often happens with this role.

The interesting relationship that Johnson and Snyder build carries the play, thanks to their honest approach to the roles and their care in acting each moment rather than overacting each scene. They give cohesion and clarity to Nelson’s chamber concept for the show.

Another fun aspect of this production is Nelson’s novel idea to cast Mark Smith in a dual role as Eliza’s father and Higgins’ mother. Smith clearly relishes the former’s rollicking songs and the latter’s witty, biting lines, and he’s effective in both parts.

Ron Wilbur lends his beautiful singing voice and an appropriately effete manner to the role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, although his embodiment of the character is more stylized and modern than the rest of the company’s approach to their roles.

Matt Seckman is droll and fussy as Col. Pickering.

The remaining roles are taken by a talented five-person ensemble comprised of Jessica Slaton Green, Rachel Jarrard, Fiona Mowbray, Chandler Vance and Isaac Jones. They all have as much stage time and action as any of the leads, and they provide much energy and entertainment throughout the evening, including the pre-show of English art songs.

Brittany Benningfield is responsible for the cast’s excellent vocal preparation, and the show is accompanied on two pianos ably manned by Caleb Ritchie and Jerram John. The sound design by Peter Gibbons smoothly enhances audibility in the strangely configured, cavernous room.

The production isn’t perfect. The costumes are a mix-match from no discernible period. The pianos are out of tune with themselves and each other. Doolittle watches his feet while dancing so as not to miss a step. But these are mere distractions, not really detractions from a unique take on a classic musical. It is well worth seeing.

Theater review

‘My Fair Lady’

What: The classic Lerner and Loewe musical presented for Kentucky Conservatory Theatre’s WinterFest.

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 29 and 31; 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 30.

Where: Table prices range from $40 a person to $350 for tables of 10 with dinner, served at 7 p.m. Individual tickets for the show only are $30.

Call: 859-935-1564


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