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.

Spring Awakening (Cygnet Theatre)

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It’s always fascinating to see a play that was once considered controversial for its time. Teen sex, homosexuality, abortion, rape, child abuse and suicide were not subjects openly discussed in 1891 when German playwright Frank Wedekind wrote Spring Awakening. This 2007 Tony Award-winning musical adaptation by Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (composer) examines the trials of a group of repressed German teenagers.

The combination of 19th century costumes and original rock music are juxtaposed to represent the coming of age of the play from the old world to modern times. The open set and minimal props gave the actors plenty of space to aggressively dance and spring into high jumps from conventional wooden chairs. The backdrop of shining and sometimes flickering light bulbs and graphic images projected on the floor of the stage created a rock star vibe suggestive of teen rebellion.

The energetic cast delivered a good performance with creative choreography that expressed frustration and a desire for sexual connection. It’s unfortunate that it was difficult to clearly hear all the lyrics. Perhaps louder microphones would have provided some benefit, since the songs vocalize the angst of teenage life, especially in “The Bitch of Living”.

When not in a scene, the actors were seated at the right and left sides of the stage to observe each character’s journey through puberty and confusion over questions unanswered by their parents and school officials. This clever aspect signifies that all teenagers experience a river of emotions and the hormonal shift–it’s not just you.

As stated in the playbill, “Every scene was based on Wedekind’s life or that of his friends.” It’s no wonder that reinventing Spring Awakening is what makes this musical more accessible for today’s society and certainly for teen youth.

Theatre Geek and Dave Thomas Brown (Lead actor, Melchior)

Theatre Geek and Dave Thomas Brown
(Lead, Melchior)

 

 

Maple and Vine (Cygnet Theatre)

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Are you ready to give up portobello mushrooms, focaccia bread, sushi, lattes, your smartphone? If so, I know the perfect place, a Midwest gated community known as the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (SDO) that strives for authenticity from 1955. Long gone are the days of connecting with each other via social media. At the SDO, social networking is having smart dinner parties and a good game of charades, accompanied by strong drinks and cigarettes.

Maple and Vine offers a look into what life would be like without all the modern amenities. Katha and her Japanese-American husband, Ryu, give up urban living and their successful, yet unfulfilling, careers for a simpler life with fewer distractions. As they transition into their new 1950s roles, they are mentored by SDO recruiter Dean and his wife Ellen, who have taken on the personas of Ward and June Cleaver. They have perfected their dossier to a T so that it’s hard not to like them as they sell the SDO to potential recruits, the audience.

Katha, now known as Kathy, a more appropriate 1950s name, spends her days learning how to cook and become the ideal wife. Ryu performs his mundane job at the box factory while tolerating the animosity towards him for being Japanese, even though he is from Long Beach, California. As time goes by, Ryu and Kathy become more comfortable living in a community where discrimination and repression are the norm. For some reason they seem to think this is less complicated than their modern life. Even Dean and Ellen have their own marital secrets, which adds a surprising twist and another layer to the plot of living an authentic life.

This black comedy by playwright Jordan Harrison makes you wonder: have we regressed in our social interactions and communications while progressing in acceptance of race, gender, lifestyle, views and opinions? And how much is one willing to sacrifice to live the “perfect” life? I believe we are heading in the right direction, so let’s keep evolving for the better. Plus, I would be tired and lost without my latte and smartphone.

The cast was fantastic, especially Amanda Sitton (Ellen). Bravo!