I am a bit of a musical theater snob.
I’ve been lucky to have had opportunities to see the crŠme de la crŠme perform on the legendary stages of both Broadway and London’s West End.
The San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s (SLOLT) performance of “My Fair Lady” was my first community theater musical experience.
As I filed into the intimate theater, a minority among a sea of senior citizens, I thought this local performance would need more than “a little bit of luck” to stack up to my previous experiences.
Armed with a pen, a notebook and cynicism, I settled into my seat and prepared for what I thought would be the longest two-and-a-half hours of my life. But as familiar tunes streamed out of the speakers above and the lights dimmed, my elitist attitude began to fade.
The cast scurried about the stage conversing in convincing Cockney accents and dressed in surprisingly elaborate costumes, except for one unlucky ensemble member in an ill-fitted red dress.
After Eliza Doolittle (Lauren Alburn) finished singing “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” I was a community theater convert and had to restrain myself from bursting into song with her.
Audrey Hepburn is to “My Fair Lady” as Julia Roberts is to “Pretty Woman.” In Alburn’s first performance with the SLOLT, she played a character immortalized on the big screen by the iconic Hepburn and on the stage by Julie Andrews – no pressure. She was impressive and belted out the songs as if she was a Cockney canary.
Alfred Doolittle (Mike Mesker) didn’t need a “little bit of luck” to bring Eliza’s pub-frequenting father to life. His rise to “middle-class morality” was both convincing and entertaining.
Alan Benson brought his professional acting experience to the role of Henry Higgins and was a delight to watch.
For those unfamiliar with the musical – based on “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw – it is a story about love and personal transformation. It’s the story of Eliza Doolittle, a woman plagued by a thick accent who makes her living by selling flowers on the streets of London, and Henry Higgins, an arrogant language academic who casually comments that “the way she speaks is what keeps her in her place” and with the right coaching he could turn her into a lady. Higgins eats his words when Doolittle shows up at his door for lessons.
Both the main characters embark on personal journeys: Doolittle’s from flower girl to lady and Higgins’ from snooty confirmed bachelor to a gentleman finally ready to let “a woman in his life.”
There is a reason why they call it the SLO Little Theater: it’s tiny. The audience surrounds the stage on three sides and the front row is inches away. The cast’s witty banter compensated for the lack of curtains during set changes.
The atmosphere was crammed but comfy, and the theater’s size added to the experience. While one of the women seated next to me dozed off and snored at several points during the performance, the other was there to see her young granddaughters perform, and informed me that her daughter made the strawberry tarts Col. Pickering (Stephen Espinosa) enjoyed in Higgins’ study just before Doolittle has her breakthrough moment and sings about the infamous “rain in Spain.”
The cast did more for me than just put on a show; they showed that you can do justice to a classic musical on a small scale, and the best part is you don’t have to pay big Broadway prices to enjoy an afternoon of theater. Tickets are $22 for general admission, and $19 for students and seniors. The show, sponsored by Bob and Ruth Bostrom, will run through June 22.
Just as Higgins found love with someone he never imagined, I found a quality production in a place I never imagined: the SLO Little Theatre.
I am now a reformed theater snob.