WARWICKâFifty years after the filmâs release and almost 60 years since its Broadway opening, My Fair Lady has continued to charm audiences with its timeless music and smart story. This weekend through October 19, Ocean State Theatre Company brings âa little bit of luckâ from Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle to Warwick with a cast that includes several local actors.
For Valerie Remillard Myette of North Kingstown, playing Mrs. Pearce (housekeeper to Professor Higgins) has been an unexpected emotional journey.
âInterestingly, itâs been easy for me as a mother to use my maternal instincts [in the role of Mrs. Pearce] as I interact with Eliza and watch her blossom from cockney flower girl into a proper lady,â said Myette. âI imagine Mrs. Pearce must be a widow and now, in her later years, feels pride for the young girl as she improves herself, and for meâas Valerie and as a momâthis was emotional.â
Myetteâs sensitive interpretation of her character appeals greatly to Ocean State Theatreâs producing artistic director Amiee Turner, who Myette labels âan actorâs director.â
âI admire Amiee Turner very much. I enjoy how she analyzes, deciphers and discovers things underneath the surface of the words [of a script],â said Myette.
To help interpret the essence of My Fair Lady, both Myette and Turner spent time examining George Bernard Shawâs Pygmalion, the play upon which the musical and movie were based. First appearing in 1912, Pygmalion explored universal messages still pondered today.
âShawâs themes have proven to be timeless,â said Turner, citing male-female dynamicsâŠthe dominant male in history that we canât get away fromâŠdonât judge a book by its cover, but covers do matterâŠand the teacher becoming the student.
Like Turner, Myette is fascinated with the finger that Shaw seemed to have on the pulse of society in the early 20th century. âIâve learned that he was actually a champion of womenâs rights,â said Myette. She believes that perhaps Shaw built this facet of Mrs. Pearceâs personality into her character.
âI like to do my homework on a character and pull it together with pieces of me that are emotionally strong,â added Myette, who recently won a Motif Award for Supporting Female for her role as Germaine in Picasso at the Lapin Agile.
A long with Myette, fellow actors Taavon Gamble of Matunuck and Jade Genga of East Greenwich were hard at work studying their varied roles.
As a member of the ensemble, Gamble said that he is required to âbecome someone different at the turn of a dime.â From cockney street performer to a member of a barber shop quartet and a high society gentleman at the Ascot Races, âmany hats keep it exciting but challenging,â said Gamble. âYou want each character to be distinctly different,â he said.
Singing, acting and dancing, 28-year-old Gamble says he canât imagine doing one without the other. He also serves as dance captain for the production, keeping track of any choreography or stage movement. âI keep notes in what I call my âdance bibleâ and will clean up the ensembleâs steps while Amiee works on a scene.â
Gamble has also immersed himself in the script, working on the Cockney dialect that is one of the playâs signature sounds. âOne of the cast members found a great online resource,â said Gamble, who said when heâs not dancing, heâs practicing his newfound vernacular.
For young Jade Genga of East Greenwich, My Fair Lady is her professional debut. The recent University of Mississippi theater graduate says the rehearsals leading up to opening night have been âan incredible learning experience.â As a member of the ensemble, Genga has especially enjoyed the period-style dancing and the challenge of exploring varied roles, like Gamble.
âAmiee pushes us to make distinct character choices for ourselves in the ensemble and I really appreciate that,â said Genga.
The passion that Myette, Gamble and Genga bring to their roles is not missed by Turner. âThey are all so hard working,â said Turner. âValerie [Myette] is such a smart and diligent actor and comes with the subtext she needs to develop her role. And sheâs such a warm person, which is needed to be Mrs. Pearce.â
Said Turner, âTaavon [Gamble] is a joy to be with during rehearsal and is someone who can do it all. And Jade [Genga] was trained well as a triple threat in musical theater; she has a promising career ahead of her.â
Amid the demands of an intensive two-week rehearsal schedule, Myette, Gamble and Genga still view their experience as Ocean State Theatre with delight.
âAmieeâs expectations are high and I like that,â said 38-year-old Myette, who produces, directs and teaches theater herself. âItâs all hands on deck during rehearsalâno nonsense and very efficient.â
From a broader perspective, Myette added, âAs a Rhode Islander, Ocean State Theatre is offering something different from what other theaters are offering. It brings something new to the mix. Iâm really glad theyâre here and Iâm glad to be part of it.â
Gamble and Genga are grateful as well.
âItâs hard to find a theater to work in that builds a family aspectâwhere youâre always welcomed back,â said Gamble. âOcean State Theatre is homespun and cares about its own community. The actors do and the patrons do as well,â he said, noting that most productions showcase several if not many local actors alongside cast members from other areas. âItâs a nice mix,â said Gamble.
Genga feels âblessedâ to have landed her first role in professional theater with this particular company. âWe are lucky to have a theater of this caliber right here in Rhode Island,â she said.
As the curtain rises, Turner is eager to open her third season with what she believes is one of the best musicals and stories ever written.
âI love musical theater but what I really love is smart storytelling,â said Turner. âAnd Lerner and Loewe, [who adapted Shawâs work] were smart enough to recognize the brilliance of George Bernard Shaw who wove together the social stories of the time that still resonate today.â
Turner refers to Lerner and Loeweâs 1956 musical adaptation of My Fair Lady, which is the only version that is licensed and, consequently, remains in its most pure form. According to Turner, not only dialogue, but much of the lyrics of the musical were taken directly from Shawâs Pygmalion.
My Fair Lady has been on our short list for a while,â said Turner, âWe will be honest and true to George Bernard Shaw.â
My Fair Lady tells the story of linguistics Professor Henry Higginsâs self-serving attempt to teach cockney flower peddler Eliza Doolittle the ways of the upper class. It features classic musical numbers including, âI Could Have Danced All Night,â âOn the Street Where You Liveâ and âIâve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.â
If you go
The Ocean State Theatre Company is located at 1245 Jefferson Blvd, Warwick. âMy Fair Ladyâ is playing now until Oct. 19. For tickets and information, call the Ocean State Theatre Company box office at 401-921-6800, or visit oceanstatetheatre.org. Ticket prices range from $39 to $54.