Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, September 14, 2001

Valerie Vedder lets out a few expletives as Eliza Doolittle
in Army Community Theater's "My Fair Lady."

Sound problems add to
sufferings of ‘My Fair Lady’

By John Berger

It should go without saying that good sound quality is essential when staging a classic Broadway musical, and that a director and sound crew do whatever it takes to eliminate sound system problems before the show opens for paying customers.

But that's not how it is with Army Community Theatre's "My Fair Lady" at Richardson Theatre.

Opening night was last Thursday. The sound varied between fair and terrible on Friday. The opening of Act II was particularly bad.

Dennis Proulx stood tall amid the shambles in making his return to the local stage as Henry Higgins. Proulx didn't sound like Rex Harrison, nor did he try to duplicate Harrison's definitive rendition of the many songs in the show. Director Glenn Cannon has Proulx sing the lyrics to those classic Lerner & Loewe anthems "I'm An Ordinary Man" and "Hymn to Him" rather than recite them, as Harrison did. That's a neat nod to the original pre-Harrison score that gives this production a distinctly different feel.

Proulx didn't quite exude the cold, upper-class English reserve Harrison brought to the role on Broadway and in the Hollywood film, but he succeeded in anchoring the show. Equally important was Proulx's ability to make himself heard clearly over musical director John Starr Alexander's large orchestra. For much of Act II, Proulx appeared to have resolved the problems caused by his malfunctioning microphone by disconnecting it.

Few of the other cast members fared as well. Almost all the featured singers suffered from recurring bouts of "tunnelitis" when malfunctioning gear made them sound as if they were singing from the depths of a storm drain. At other times the impression was of listening to old 78-rpm records played through tinny speakers.

Valerie Vedder (Eliza) sounded pretty good whenever the sound system gave her a chance to be heard. Much of her dialogue in the first half of Act I was unintelligible. She seemed more effective as a singer than an actress.

John Hunt (Col. Pickering) brought a solid and substantial presence to one of the major supporting roles. David Starr (Alfred P. Doolittle) had his best moments in a scene with Proulx and Hunt that didn't involve singing or dancing. His performance was cruelly hobbled in some other spots by the sound system.

Sylvia Hormann-Alper (Higgins' mother) and Daren Kimura (Freddy Eynsford-Hill) generally suffered the same fate.

Let's make this clear: The problem is not one of having to listen carefully to hear the performers' voices from 10 rows back or when they're singing over the large orchestra. The problem is that the sound system creates additional noise without enhancing the performance. The fact that Honolulu Theatre for Youth has staged small musical shows in Richardson Theatre without these problems makes this continuing problem with the ACT shows even more puzzling.

Add a general lack of energy and spirit, and this "Lady" clearly needs some freshening. The pacing is sluggish and the choreography is simply not there. "Get Me to the Church On Time" in particular seems to drag on forever.

That's a shame because the story, based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," is inherently enchanting, and the Lerner & Loewe musical is one of the greatest of all the Broadway shows. Wealthy Col. Pickering challenges Henry Higgins to make good on a boast that he can take a lower-class woman off the streets of London and teach her how to talk and act like an upper-class lady. Lowly flower peddler Eliza Doolittle agrees to be Higgins' guinea pig, and Pickering requires Higgins to forswear any hanky-panky.

When Eliza's ne'er-do-well father hears that Eliza has moved in with a gentlemen, he turns up to negotiate -- as one "man of the world" to another -- a fair price for his daughter. Higgins' experiment changes his life, as well.

Anyone interested in seeing the show surely already knows the story and the songs by heart.

It's been 45 years since "My Fair Lady" opened on Broadway with Harrison as Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza. Romantics may still wonder what happened between Higgins and Eliza after he asked about his slippers that last time. But the most immediate concern at ACT should be resolving the sound problems .

Nightly drill sessions for one and all may be required.

"My Fair Lady"

When: Rescheduled; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays starting Sept. 28.
Where: Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter
Cost: $12 to $15
Call: 438-4480

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