In a brand-new, glittering, and large-scale production, the Valley Light Opera Company is bringing Lerner & Loewe’s classic musical My Fair Lady to the fabulous Academy of Music Theater in Northampton in November, 2017.
Celebrated for their stellar interpretations of Gilbert & Sullivan operas, VLO rightly views the American musical as a direct descendant. Now – call it a little bit of luck – they are bringing this greatly beloved but rarely performed work to the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts, to appeal to a contemporary audience that nonetheless values tradition and talent. With a huge cast, lavish costumes and sets, and a full orchestra, My Fair Lady will be expansively staged in keeping with the grand tradition of the great American musical.
Since it opened on Broadway 61 years ago, My Fair Lady has been beloved not only for its irresistible story, deliciously witty lyrics, and enchanting music, but also the visual charm of the Edwardian period – from opulent ballrooms to colorful pubs, from the upper-crust Ascot racetrack to the down-and-out stalls of Covent Garden where Eliza Doolittle makes a precarious living selling flowers.
Nearly everyone knows the story—based on Shaw’s Pygmalion—of Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney hoyden transformed into a grand lady by the efforts of the eccentric Professor Henry Higgins. But the VLO gives this old favorite a new dimension, looking deeply into the hearts of its characters and bringing them to vibrant life as complex and fascinating human beings. Eliza’s growth into a strong, independent female character still resonates with modern theatergoers, and the reluctant journey of Henry Higgins from pedantic fuddy-duddy to something resembling an open-hearted romantic hero is eternally satisfying—and comical.
Not surprisingly, the unique appeal of a well-established opera company performing a grand American musical has attracted outstanding talent from throughout the region. Christopher Berrien has played lead musical theater roles throughout Connecticut and is traveling from there to play Higgins – a long-held dream. He sees Professor Higgins as a “mama’s boy” who “can go from charming to annoyed to wheedling to exasperated to temper tantrum and then back to charming, all in the same few lines of dialog.” He adds, “That’s a lot of fun to portray.”
Berrien puts his finger on what’s special about the VLO: their productions are beautifully staged, expertly performed, and musically splendid, but most of all, they’re always just plain fun, for both adults and children. And, in today’s world, there’s a special resonance to the grand themes of My Fair Lady: the clash of cultures, the relations between men and women, class resentments – and the power of love to bridge all gaps.
My Fair Lady is stage directed by musical theater veteran Andrew Gilbert who has directed multiple productions throughout the Valley including at Westfield and Black Cat theaters as well as Exit 7, Wilbraham United and Suffield players. The music is directed by Michael Greenebaum, who has directed and conducted eight VLO Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas along with seven musical theater productions, as well as several non-G&S operas. He has also been stage director for numerous other musical theater and operetta productions.
The production goes up at the Academy of Music in Northampton November 3, 4, 10 and 11 at 7:30 with matinees November 5 and 12 at 2:00PM. Tickets are available at the Academy of Music box office or at aom.ticketfly.com. My Fair Lady is presented by the VLO by special arrangement with Tams-Witmark and the generous media sponsorship of New England Public Radio, 88.5 FM and The NEPR News Network.
Valley Light Opera, Inc., based in Amherst, is a nonprofit Massachusetts corporation founded in 1975 by a group of Gilbert and Sullivan devotees. The VLO promotes broad participation and produces outstanding entertainment. The group presents a fully staged opera or musical theater work in the fall of each year, less formal productions in the late winter or early spring, and has been a regular featured performer at Northampton First Night. Over the years, the Valley Light Opera has produced all fourteen of the G&S operas as well as Cox and Box, The Zoo, The Rose of Persia, The Chieftain, The Emerald Isle, The Beauty Stone, and Sullivan’s oratorio The Prodigal Son. In addition, VLO has performed Brigadoon, Rudolf Friml’s The Vagabond King, Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, John Philip Sousa’s El Capitan, Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Warren Martin’s The True Story of Cinderella.