My Fair Lady (Cygnet Theatre)

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One of my first memories of theatre as a child was seeing My Fair Lady at Starlight Theatre. My grandmother and I just happened to be in Balboa Park, and I begged her to buy tickets on a whim. Needless to say, I enjoyed the show so much that I was thrilled when Cygnet Theatre announced they would be performing this “loverly” musical adapted from the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

My Fair Lady captures the story of a young woman, Eliza Doolittle (Allison Spratt Pearce) who has a dream of working in a flower shop with a steady income if only she were more ladylike. She meets Professor Higgins (Sean Murray), a phoneticist, who dislikes her poor use of the English language. Wanting to improve her English for better opportunities, Eliza asks Higgins for speech lessons. After much persuasion, especially from his pal Colonel Pickering (Tom Stephenson), Higgins agrees. In six months, Eliza is transformed into a proper young lady with poise and eloquent speech.

As a child, I admired Eliza’s strength and determination in fulfilling her dream. Revisiting this musical thirty years later, my initial memory of Eliza has remained, but I have discovered something new. Eliza gains a mind of her own and certainly speaks it gracefully, specifically after Higgins and Pickering brag about how “they did it” without recognizing Eliza’s efforts. Although Eliza has become a “fair lady” she keeps her independence and spunky spirit even after realizing that Higgins will always view her as a flower girl and nothing more. She also comes to the conclusion that she no longer needs him. Higgins is surprised to learn that Eliza feels this way and that deep down he has grown fond of her. In the end, they find a way to maintain their relationship.

Allison Spratt Pearce as Eliza Doolittle did an amazing job with a cockney accent. Funny Ron Choularton, who played Eliza’a drunk dad, did a little bit of show stealing.

Thanks to the Cygnet Theatre for bringing this charming musical to the stage so that I could relive one my wonderful childhood memories.

Chasing the Song (La Jolla Playhouse)

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Today many musical artists write their own songs, but this wasn’t always the case. In the late 1950s – 60s, New York song shops housed in the 11-story Brill Building in Times Square was where a majority of hit songs were produced. The songwriter’s goal would be to get a popular recording artist to perform their song and with any luck the song would hit the top of the Billboard charts. Kitschy songs about love and tragedy seemed to have been the main theme, but as times changed with protests of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, so did the music. Soon song shops would no longer exist as the British Invasion took over in the U.S. and the Beatles made history in April of 1964 by having the top five songs on the Billboard Top 100 singles chart.

David Bryan and Joe Dipietro have created a new musical production, Chasing the Song, that is refreshing and filled with high-energy choreography. Not only do the actors sing and dance, but play musical instruments, like the piano and guitar, which is very fitting for the song shop setting and a wonderful component that will make you love the play even more.

There are many surprising creative elements, including the transformation of the four pianos that sit on stage. As the musical moves from scene to scene the pianos open up to create different props, like a bar, recording studio, and a fire escape.

There’s no doubt the fire escape scene will be a favorite with audience members. It begins with the male songwriters contemplating their future. As they sit and ponder, one starts a rhythmic beat on a wooden box. Soon the others follow with their own beat with snaps, slaps, and an outstanding tap dance (performed by Jake Weinstein) creating a sound that makes you want to get up and dance,

I loved this play and would have seen it again if I hadn’t attended one of the last few performances. Since this is a page to stage production, the show I saw had already been developed and finessed into a Broadway worthy musical. I’m sure of it – it’s that good!

The Book of Mormon (Broadway San Diego)

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There’s no need to be a fan of South Park to enjoy the 2011 Tony award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon. This religious musical satire follows two young Mormon men to Uganda for missionary work. They soon discover that spreading the Latter Day Saint’s doctrine isn’t as easy as they had thought, especially when the local villagers are more concerned with threats to their own safety from AIDS, corrupt militia, and female genital mutilation. Joining an Elder group already assigned to Uganda, the two newbies, Elder Price (James David Larson) and Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand), believe that if the natives give the Mormon faith a chance, they will convert.

The mission goes awry when Price, who wishes he were assigned to Orlando, bails on the group, and goofball Cunningham (who is a cross between the personas of Jonah Hill and Chris Farley) is put on the spot to preach The Book to the locals. There’s only one problem, Cunningham hasn’t read the entire book. He fakes it until he makes it, bringing in dogma from Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. Cunningham’s teachings are of another allegiance, but certainly one that’s a lot more fun and, quite frankly, ridiculous. Just imagine what happens when the locals perform a skit of what they learned for the Mormon review committee. All hell breaks loose, but the two tribes come together for a happy ending.

Creators Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone bring in some crude humor and profanity. Their use of naïve and nerdy Mormon men uniting with lively Africans will get you to smile and laugh, making for an entertaining show.

Even the delivery of lines, lyrics, and choreography is well thought out and gives a bit of playfulness to the overall musical, especially in “Turn It Off”, when the Elders explain how to manage so-called negative feelings, like dealing with an abusive parent and thoughts of being gay. Turning your thoughts off like a light switch is their simple answer. Completely ridiculous, but then again, that’s the point.

The set and costumes were not overdone, which made it easy to follow the storyline and not get distracted by an elaborate production.

The cast was outstanding and Cody Jamison Strand gave a funny and energetic performance.