Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

My Fair Lady
Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Intimate Apparel, Something Rotten!, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Lara Downes - A New World A-Comin', The Truth About Winnie Ruth Judd

Amanda Valenzuela
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw /Hale Centre Theatre
With its familiar tunes, charming characters, and elegant storytelling, My Fair Lady is a beloved musical from Broadway's Golden Age. With a superb cast and gorgeous creative elements, including sensational costumes, Hale Centre Theatre's production is a splendid tribute to this timeless classic musical.

Set against the backdrop of London in 1912, the story follows the transformation of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle under the tutelage of the self-centered phonetics expert, Professor Henry Higgins. Eliza wishes for a better life and hopes that improving her speech and accent will afford her the opportunity to work in a flower shop instead of selling flowers on the street. When Higgins wagers a bet with his fellow linguistic professional Colonel Pickering, that he can transform Eliza into a proper lady within six months, a journey begins in which both Eliza and Higgins learn from each other.

Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady features a book by Alan Jay Lerner that has a witty and sophisticated sense of humor, and a glorious score with lyrics by Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe that includes such familiar songs as "I Could Have Danced All Night," "The Rain in Spain," and "Wouldn't It Be Loverly." The original 1956 Broadway production won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and the 1964 film adaptation won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Anchoring this production are the stellar performances of Amanda Valenzuela and Rob Stuart as Eliza and Higgins, respectively. Valenzuela's exquisite voice and spirited portrayal capture the essence of Eliza's journey from humble beginnings to refined ladyhood, while Stuart's nuanced performance brings depth to Higgins' complex character. Their on-stage chemistry and wit add charm and charisma to the production, making them a truly winning twosome, even if the characters are almost constantly at odds with each other.

In the supporting cast, Justin Howell is bright and funny as the affable Colonel Pickering, Hector Coris is a burst of lovable energy as Eliza's father, the jovial Alfred P. Doolittle, and Brandt Norris is charming, with a rich singing voice, as the lovestruck Freddy Eynsford-Hill. Coris' two songs and Norris' "On the Street Where You Live" are exceptionally sung. With an abundance of compassion and great line delivery, Suze St. John and Kira Galindo add depth and humor as Higgins' mother and housekeeper, respectively, while the hardworking ensemble deliver stellar harmonies and seamless scene transitions.

Director and choreographer Cambrian James's staging is both lively and engaging, with dynamic movement and energetic choreography that infuse the production with an abundance of flair and vigor; the stillness of the Ascot scene is superb. However, the way James has Stuart pacing about the set and up and down the stairs during some moments of his songs is somewhat distracting and takes the focus off Lerner's witty lyrics. Celia Erickson's exquisite costumes are gorgeous, including rich, beaded gowns for the women and smart suits and tuxedos for the men, plus excellent black and white designs for the Ascot sequence. McKenna Carpenter's set design adds richness and texture to the production, including a fantastic wooden staircase and second level area for a portion of Higgins' home, which transports audiences from the bustling streets of London to Higgins' elegant domain. The lighting by Catherine Andrus delivers some gorgeous stage images, especially for the nighttime scenes. Cathy Hauan's music direction derives rich vocals and tight harmonies from the ensemble.

With its superb cast, spirited direction, and lovely design elements, My Fair Lady at Hale Centre Theatre is a delightful, crowd-pleasing production of this beloved musical classic.

A few words on the misogyny and bullying in the piece: the way that Higgins treats Eliza may be difficult to watch through a modern prism but is acceptable within the context of the time period and in how the musical depicts the social norms and gender dynamics of the male-dominated culture of the early 20th century. Higgins' condescending, belittling, and dismissive treatment of Eliza clearly reinforces gender stereotypes, but the musical confronts these attitudes and challenges them through Eliza's transformation and through her journey toward self-empowerment and independence. While Higgins' behavior may be offensive by contemporary standards, it also accurately depicts the injustices and limitations faced by women of that era and the musical does show how Higgins' mother is dismissive of her son's actions and behavior.

Some may scoff at the misogynistic ways of Higgins, but Lerner and Loewe clearly used their words and humor to humiliate Higgins and depict his list of shortfalls in his songs "A Hymn to Him," "Why Can't a Woman Be Like a Man?," and "You Did It," while Eliza's songs, "Show Me," "Just You Wait," and "Without You," portray the strength of her character. Also, while some may taken aback at the way the play ends–SPOILER ALERT–after Eliza claims that she can stand on her own and walks out on Higgins, she comes back to him–you have to remember that it's the early 1900s, and Eliza has no family to depend on, no money of her own, and no formal education to fall back on, but she does feel a sense of belonging with Higgins that her new education has afforded her that she doesn't feel she has with anyone else. Eliza basically only has one place to go until she can figure out what she wants to do with her life, and that's to move back in to Higgins' home.

My Fair Lady runs through March 30, 2024, at the Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or by calling (480) 497-1181

Producers and Casting Directors: David and Corrin Dietlein
Director and Choreographer: Cambrian James
Music Director: Cathy Hauan
Costume Shop Manager: Brielle Hawkes
Costume Designer: Celia Erickson
Head of Carpentry: Kyle Webb
Shop Manager / Scenic Designer / Head Scenic Artist: McKenna Carpenter
Lighting Designer: Catherine Andrus
Props Mistress / Scenic Painter: Liz De La Torre
Scenic Painter: Brittany Arwine
Carpenter: Michael Pratt
Costume Assistants: Toni Anne Smith and Molly Hill
Wigs and Makeup: Cambrian James
Production Stage Manager: Kaitlyn Grace
Rehearsal Assistant: Rochelle Barton
Assistant Stage Managers: Kinsey Moore and Abbey Howell
Audio Engineer: Jackson Zyontz
Production Assistant: Jamie Fleischer
Business Manager and Hale Bookkeeper: Britney Carpenter
Dance Captain: CarmiƱa Monserrat

Eliza Doolittle: Amanda Valenzuela
Henry Higgins: Rob Stuart
Colonel Pickering: Justin Howell
Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Brandt Norris
Alfred P. Doolittle: Hector Coris
Harry: Gary Pimentel
Jamie: Adam Guinn
Mrs. Pearce: Kira Galindo
Mrs. Eynsford-Hill and Mrs. Hopkins: Sarah Cleeland
Mrs. Higgins: Suze St. John
Ensemble: Carmiña Monserrat
Ensemble: Gracie Gamble
Ensemble: Diana Stapley
Ensemble: Sophia Castelluccio
Ensemble: Ava Cusiter
Ensemble: Bennett Allen Wood
Ensemble: Jeremy Cruz
Ensemble: Truman Regard-Whipple
Ensemble: Joseph Strode
Ensemble: Reece Harris
Ensemble: Payten McLeod