St. Thomas Playhouse will present a musical for the whole family in its production of “My Fair Lady” from Oct. 17-20 at the nexStage Theatre in Ketchum. The performance will feature a 50-person cast composed of actors of all ages. Shows will start at 7 p.m. nightly.
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” “My Fair Lady” is a well-known musical that explores, humorously, the social boundaries that constricted the plight of the poor. Centering around the transformation of the play’s female protagonist Eliza Doolittle (played by Melodie Taylor Mauldin), the musical playfully follows her emergence from poverty to the performance of a sophisticated aristocrat.
“It’s about a woman who was trying to move out of her class, not because she felt that those people were happier, but because she had a goal and there was something that she wanted,” Mauldin said. “She was nervy enough as a woman in that era to step up. I believe everyone has a little Eliza Doolittle in them, and that there’s something they want and have to figure out how to get.”
Directed by R.L. Rowsey, the musical will be presented through the eyes of a young girl reading a story.
“Kids dream so easily. If we can all be a little kid-like as we look at the scenery, we look at it differently, too,” Rowsey said. “She may have her own questions of self-worth, and watching her observe this story is interesting.”
Challenging social perspectives is an underlying theme of the performance, which involves commentary about female independence.
“It’s a story about a down-on-her-luck little gutter snipe who becomes the beautiful magical princess,” Rowsey said. “It is also very much about class structure, and how people move in these structures. We are determined to show everyone as a collective, and especially that those from the lower class are happier and want to take care of each other.”
The musical has required some adjustment on the part of the actors in terms of having to adopt a British dialect. And given the variety of dialects in the piece—from upper-class to cockney—“My Fair Lady” dabbles in socio-linguistics—how one talks reflects one’s place in society. This has changed the way some of the actors have thought about speech.
“It’s a story about a down-on-her-luck little gutter snipe who becomes the beautiful magical princess.”
“If you dissect the dialogue, there’s so much there,” Mauldin said. “It’s like learning a new language, and there are powerful messages in the script.”
Constructed in a simple space at the nexStage, this production will be different from what audiences may be used to.
“What R.L. has done has created a framework that causes the audience to go with it and imagine, fill in things and discover,” Mauldin said.
The set resembles an old, abandoned ballroom, transforming as the plot progresses.
“It’s a little old and dusty and things are covered up,” Rowsey said. “Little by little, things come to life as it becomes rediscovered.”
As a community-driven project, the production showcases actors of various ages and backgrounds.
“This is an opportunity for someone who doesn’t usually do plays to have that chance to step out into the lights,” Rowsey said.
Cast member Sara Gorby, St. Thomas Playhouse education and production director, said the diversity of the cast helps the production.
“It’s just great to get all of these people together,” she said. “Everyone’s perspective is important to the overall picture.”
Choreographed by actor and dancer Peter Burke, “My Fair Lady” includes dancing and singing among multi-generational participants, giving a sense of playful fun to each rehearsal.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect from the play, or prepared for how much fun it has been,” Rowsey said. “There has been a lot of laughter and creating.”
Directing grade-school and adult participants hasn’t always been easy, Rowsey said.
“Working with this many people is a great challenge, but it’s fun,” he said.
This performance will mark the 12th year of St. Thomas Playhouse’s production of a multi-generational family musical. As an outreach to St. Thomas Episcopal Church, the tradition celebrates diversity in the community.
“We are excited about the opportunity to bring every walk of life, every spiritual faith, every person in the community together to share a story where we can find common ground and can relate,” Gorby said. “Our hope is that we can include a wide variety of people around the table collaborating on a really awesome story.”
Including the participation of the Wood River High School orchestra, the entire production is a community-wide effort.
“Hundreds of people touch the play,” Rowsey said. “Between donated set items, dialect coaches and costume production, we are fortunate to be helped by so many.”
Exploring the age old message of transformation, the cast hopes that the audience will reassess themselves and change how they think about each other.
“This is a social theme that doesn’t go away,” Mauldin said.
As the play’s characters have worked their way into the actors’ personal lives, they have noticed a change within themselves as well.
“For some reason, we choose to put people in categories and boxes, so when we see someone trying to move up or around these constructs, we just have ask what their motivation is,” Mauldin said.
She said the play is “not about the costumes or the set, it’s really about the people and the feelings and the connections.”
Since much of the audience may know the lyrics and the songs by heart, the cast expects to hear some of their viewers singing along.
“We hope that people discover something new about themselves and have a great time,” Rowsey said.
Friday, Oct. 18, is the Gala Benefit for the H. Edward Bilkey Memorial Scholarship Fund with tickets starting at $15 for 13-18. Adults $45 and reserved $75.
For shows Thursday, Oct. 17, and Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19 and 20, tickets are $25, $15 and $10.