For many years, the leaders of the festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, had resisted producing the hit musical, which is inspired by the screenplay of Shaw's "Pygmalion" (and the play before it). Perhaps echoing how Shaw (1865-1950) had held off giving permission to musicalize his play for many years, the Shaw Festival artistic directors of the past 50 years chose to keep its focus on pure, songless Shaw — his plays. Until now.
Artistic director Jackie Maxwell said on April 13, "Now that Shaw is doing musicals on the main stage, the notion of doing plays like My Fair Lady seemed an inevitable conclusion, and having the right people on the horizon to do the piece made it all possible."
(It couldn't have been a joy that the rival Stratford Festival raked in money when it produced the show in the past.)
My Fair Lady's time has come, in the milestone 50th season of the Shaw Festival. It plays the Shaw's flagship Festival Theatre, in repertory with other works, to Oct. 30. Opening night is May 28.
Smith, whose staging is billed as "an innovative and fresh reinterpretation" of the classic about a flower girl schooled by a dialectician/grammarian, is artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington, DC. She previously directed Mack and Mabel for the Shaw. Her My Fair Lady cast includes Deborah Hay as Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, Benedict Campbell as phonetics professor Henry Higgins, Patrick Galligan as Colonel Pickering and Neil Barclay as Alfred Doolittle, with Kyle Blair, Alexandre Brillon, Celeste Brillon, Saccha Dennis, Sharry Flett, Jeff Irving, Patty Jamieson, Gabrielle Jones, Billy Lake, Colin Lepage, Anthony Malarky, Heather McGuigan, Katie Murphy, Melanie Phillipson, Louie Rossetti, Kiera Sangster, Jonathan Tan, Jacqueline Thair, Devon Tullock, Aidan Tye, Mark Uhre, Robin Evan Willis, Luka Vujic, Kelly Wong and Kellan Ziffle.
The Shaw Festival's My Fair Lady has musical direction by festival music director Paul Sportelli and choreography by New York-based choreographer Daniel Pelzig.
In the famous property, "A wager between two men, phonetics Professor Henry Higgins and his colleague Colonel Pickering, initiates the metamorphosis of a 'deliciously low' Cockney flower girl from the slums of Tottenham Court Road to an enchanting lady who can dance amongst Europe's royalty."
The beloved Broadway score by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe includes "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly,' "The Rain in Spain," "On the Street Where You Live" and "Get Me to the Church on Time," among other songs.
The production team includes set designer Ken MacDonald, costume designer Judith Bowden, lighting designer Jock Munro, projection designer Adam Larsen and sound designer John Lott. The stage management team includes production stage manager Judy Farthing and assistant stage managers Leigh McClymont and Annie McWhinnie.
The Shaw Festival's 2011 season features an array of theatre on the Festival's four stages: Heartbreak House, Candida, The Admirable Crichton, On the Rocks, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Maria Severa, Drama at Inish – A Comedy, The President, Topdog/Underdog, When the Rain Stops Falling and a special 50th season two-day event, The Speed of Ideas: A Theatrical Forum featuring award-winning playwrights Tony Kushner and Suzan-Lori Parks and author and renowned theatre critic Michael Billington.
For more information on the 50th season celebrations, visit www.shawfest.com.