The New Surry Theatre has found a way to offer the musical production summer audiences have come to expect, while at the same time cutting the high cost of putting it on.
The company is performing a concert version of “My Fair Lady” at the Blue Hill Town Hall Theater over the next two weekends.
The results of this first-time effort were mixed on opening night last Friday.
New Surry saved money by not having to build sets or pay more than one musician to play the score. It also got a break on royalties paid to the firm that owns the rights to the show.
The cost-saving concept is a noble one, but “My Fair Lady” — or any of the big 1940s or ’50s musicals — probably isn’t the place to start cutting back. The lush score was almost unrecognizable performed by a solo player on the town hall’s upright piano.
Actors were in costume but carried their scripts for the dialogue sections of the 1956 adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” They performed all the songs, however, without holding them and by the end of the run, probably won’t need them at all.
Director Bill Raiten also used a chorus made up of 20 children, teenagers and adults. The singers sat in front of the stage inside a raised, semicircular walkway on which the actors performed the songs. That worked as long as they stayed put, but Raiten rather clumsily moved them off and on the stage and through the audience.
A concert version of a musical puts a great deal of emphasis on the music and not enough on the acting. Actors carrying scripts have a tough time staying in character while searching for their places on the pages.
Putting actors in costume most likely helped them feel in character, but it gave the production a kind of half-baked look. If costumes, why not sets? If a piano, why not a couple of other instruments?
What Raiten has going for him is a couple of stunning voices that he showcased well.
Summer Plouffe Vogel’s Eliza Doolittle was charming and delightful, if a bit too young for the role. Although still a college student, she stopped the show cold with “I Could Have Danced All Night” and charmed the audience during “The Rain in Spain.” She appeared much more comfortable singing than speaking, but that could have been opening-night jitters.
Christopher Candage was equally effective as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Eliza’s would-be suitor. He sang “On the Street Where You Live” as if it were written for him. Candage and Vogel shared some kind of chemistry that might be put to better use in a future show.
While Eliza Doolittle is considerably younger than her teacher Henry Higgins, Michael Reichgott appeared to be old enough to be Vogel’s grandfather. They worked well together but the thought of a romance blossoming between the two was repugnant, and made it nearly impossible for theatergoers to surrender wholeheartedly to the musical fantasy of “My Fair Lady.”
Reichgott was excellent as Higgins but casting Candage, who is in his 30s, in the part and having Reichgott play Alfred Doolitte would have given the show the romantic spark it lacked. Reichgott proved his gift for comedy last summer in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” The part of Eliza’s father requires a man with such comedic skills.
Without the sets, orchestra and big dance numbers, concert versions need something to give them the energy that naturally is created by movement on a stage. Last summer, that energy flowed off the stage, over the audience and into the streets of Blue Hill from New Surry’s full production of “Forum.”
If the company is going to accomplish the seemingly opposite goals of presenting quality musical productions and keeping down costs, it might want to think about less traditional shows with smaller casts such as “Company” or “Bat Boy.” Raiten also might consider essentially scriptless shows such as “Songs for the New World.” He has the voices for any or all of them.
New Surry’s idea to do concert productions isn’t a bad one, it just picked the wrong show to do first.
• • •
If You Go
What: “My Fair Lady,” concert version; book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe
Who: New Surry Theatre
Where: Blue Hill Town Hall Theater
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 13-15 and Aug. 20-22
How much: $5-$15 at the box office or Blue Hill Public Library
How long: 2 hours, 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
What else: 374-5556, www.newsurrytheatre.org