Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 19, 2019

REVIEW: Theatre Guild of Hampden, My Fair Lady

Theatre Guild of Hampden, Wilbraham, MA
through June 22, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

With its enthralling new production, Theatre Guild of Hampden (TGH) has created a “My Fair Lady” for the 21st century. By judicious use of supporting cast members, director Paula Cortis spotlights how the women in her cast routinely outwit the men who have all the advantages in the sexist class system of 1912 London. When the curtain comes down on this battle of the sexes between Professor Henry Higgins and flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whom he trains as a “lady” in six months, there’s no doubt who has the upper hand. 

Giza and Westbrook
In a triumphant return to acting after a 30-year hiatus, Mark Giza, best known to local audiences as TGH’s artistic director, is a pompous and persnickety Higgins, his “dream role” to play since he was 18 years old. As his student, nemesis, and potential love interest, Jeannine Westbrook is a revelatory Eliza. Her comic and dramatic acting chops match Giza’s, and her glorious soprano voice reflects her musical training at the Hartt School in Hartford. Paul DiProto is a hyperactive hoot as Eliza’s ne’er-do-well father and “moral philosopher” Alfred Doolittle.

Brian Rucci is remarkably convincing both as the gentlemanly Colonel Pickering, Higgins’s fellow linguist, and as Jamie, Alfred’s loose-limbed drinking companion. David Webber’s magnetic stage presence and ringing tenor voice make Eliza’s lovelorn suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, into more than a fatuous cipher. And Tracey Hebert brings a welcome touch of ditsy humor to the wisdom of Mrs. Higgins, Henry’s exasperated mother.   

Musical highlights include: a jubilant “With a Little Bit of Luck” featuring DiProto; an exhilarating “The Rain in Spain” highlighting Westbrook; and a rapturous “On the Street Where You Live” from Webber, in which the presence of four women (but not Eliza) on stage suggests that he’d be nothing without them. Cortis’ similar staging of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” has an equally bracing power. Her stiff-upper-lip “Ascot Gavotte” is hilariously presented on the theatre floor in front of the stage at Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, almost literally in the audience’s face.  

Elegant period costumes by Rob Williamson, imaginative choreography (including several exuberant tap dance sequences) by Melissa Dupont, and lively musical direction by Karen Ducharme and her seven-piece band, along with the timeless lyrics and music of Lerner and Loewe, also make this a must-see show.