Stellar cast brings timeless ‘My Fair Lady’ to the stage in The Villages

Alex Santoriello and Mary Jo Vitale captured the playful spirit, gender struggle and class combat that permeates “My Fair Lady.”

Mary Jo Vitale and Alex Santoriello battle it out in ‘My Fair Lady’ on stage Tuesday at the Savannah Center.

The showdown between an alpha male and transformed woman took center stage Tuesday in the Savannah Center. It was a delightful performance filled with the majestic music of Lerner and Loewe and stellar efforts from a large cast of Villagers.

They included Dan Pona, Tim Casey, Mark Steven Schmidt, Billie Thatcher, John Rogerson, Janet Maloney, Gerry Sherman, Dave Olsen and Violet Ray.

Broadway veteran Santoriello directed the musical, which debuted on Broadway in 1956. He deftly played Professor Henry Higgins, bubbling with rich-guy, chauvinistic arrogance.
Santoriello’s barking bluster was flavored with a brisk and proper English accent. He turned songs like “Why Can’t the English,” “I’m An Ordinary Man” and “A Hymn To Him” into stuffy soliloquies aimed at women or anyone else below Higgins’ social strata.

Santoriello’s stage movements, facial expressions and constant cool – he showed no signs of panic when a pant leg ripped on stage – was a theatrical hoot.

Janet Maloney and Dan Pona talk things over.

George Bernard Shaw wanted to illuminate the battle of the classes – and the sexes – when he wrote “Pygmalion” in 1913. The musical is based on the play.

Eliza Doolittle, played by Vitale, is a central figure in the musical. She’s a poor flower girl and Higgins wants to mold her into a woman who fits right in with the upper crust of society.

Vitale’s illuminating performance as Eliza began when she cackled with a cockney dialect. Eventually, she winds up under Higgins’ tutelage as he attempts to turn Eliza into a lady.

Alex Santoriello, Mary Jo Vitale and Dan Pona perform a scene from ‘My Fair Lady’ on stage Tuesday at the Savannah Center.
These fans came dressed to thrill for ‘My Fair Lady.’ They are, from left, Debbie McKinney, Brenda-Jo Bogaz, David Bradley, Sandee Lorenzen and Barbara Bradley.

Vitale conveys Eliza’s linguistic growth and personal frustration. She howls with disdain for Higgins on “Just You Wait.”  The culmination of Vitale’s performance comes near the end of the musical when she declares her independence with an almost raging song, “Without You.” It’s one of those moments on stage when a performer defines the arc of a character’s life and makes it real for the audience.

Vitale’s wistful and captivating “I Could Have Danced All Night” was an early highlight. She seemed to glide around the stage before settling down to sleep on a couch as Thatcher, playing the maid Mrs. Pearce, gently covered Eliza with a blanket.

Billie Thatcher, as the maid Mrs. Pearce, helps Henry Higgins adjust his hat.

Thatcher made the most of a minor role. She mugged it up while jousting with Higgins but showed tender understanding with Eliza.

Colonel Pickering – played with a robust charm by Pona – helped Eliza expand her vocabulary and sense of self.

“The Rain In Spain” is a showstopper, with Vitale, Santoriello and Pona romping around the stage in glorious celebration.

Tim Casey, center, and the cast of ‘My Fair Lady’ sing about a little bit of luck.

Casey nailed the crooked charm of Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father. He’s a lovable louse out for a good time and trying to make a buck off his daughter’s new-found attachment to Henry Higgins.

Casey and his streetwise cohorts flaunt their good fortune on “A Little Bit of Luck.” Casey later returns for another blistering song and dance routine –backed by a chorus line of high-kicking women – on “Get Me To the Church On Time.”

Another shining moment came from Schmidt, appearing in this first major musical here. He played Freddy, who has lost his heart to Eliza.

Left: Mark Steven Schmidt earned a loud ovation after singing ‘On the Street Where You Live.’ Right: Eliza Doolittle shocks Henry Higgins with her words.

You can feel the romantic exhilaration bubbling in poor Freddy’s heart when Schmidt sang “On The Street Where You Live.” His dynamic vocal range added to the luster of the song – and the character.

“My Fair Lady” is presented by KC Productions, with Joan Knapton and Santoriello as executive producers. It is choreographed by Violet Ray. Linda Rosalsky is musical director, with Liza Walters serving as stage manager.

The musical has two performances each day scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, and all shows are sold out.

Tony Violanti is an award-winning journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.

The cast of “My Fair Lady,” which opened Tuesday night at Savannah Center.