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Dance all night, bridge the gap between classes with My Fair Lady at ShenanArts

“My Fair Lady” comes to the ShenanArts stage this weekend and next weekend. Photos by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

The standard by which all other musical theater productions are measured, and the film role which created discord in Hollywood with the casting of Audrey Hepburn over Julie Andrews, comes to the ShenanArts’ stage this weekend.

“My Fair Lady” was actually suggested by director Jennifer Vaughan’s father, because the film is his favorite musical. She said she did not realize at first that this year was the film’s 60th anniversary. She chose it for “those women’s issues that are timeless.”

“It’s got a good message in a lot of different ways for right now,” Vaughan, who previously directed “The Sound of Music” last year at ShenanArts, said.

One message is expressing kindness toward others who are different from you.

“I think all of it still resonates today,” Vaughan said.

She did not catch on to the women’s issues in the film until working to bring the production to ShenanArts.

“[‘Eliza Doolittle’] is trying to be a self-sustaining business woman in a society that’s dominated by men,” Vaughan said.

On stage before in the movie theater, “My Fair Lady” is based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” which Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe took the script and added music.

“There are some things that they expect so you can’t ignore that,” Vaughan said of whether fans of the film will find the stage production true to the film.

ShenanArts has taken creativity with the presentation.

“It’s still ‘My Fair Lady,’ but I think it’s our version of ‘My Fair Lady,'” she said.

The three-hour production, including an intermission, includes a 7-minute performance of a song not heard in the film.

Vaughan said she hopes audience members recognize how “wonderfully talented” are the actors in the local community. All ShenanArts performers are local and perform as volunteers.

She said she also hopes they enjoy a show with a good message that will make them leave the theater feeling good.

“And maybe learn a little kindness along the way,” Vaughan said.

Audience members have previously seen Jonathan Erdman in “Oliver,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Sound of Music” at ShenanArts. For the next two weeks, he will bring “Professor Henry Higgins” to life on stage.

Acting since he was a child, Erdman said he prepared for the role by working on his British accent, watching the film and reflecting on times in his own life when he experienced what “Higgins” experiences. Erdman took some inspiration from “Higgans'” accent from actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

“One of the great things about acting is if you’re acting, you’re probably not doing it right. It’s got to be natural,” Erdman said. He processed the emotions necessary for what “Higgins” is going through on stage. “They’re going to be used to Rex Harrison, but they’re going to see me. And, hopefully, they’ll grasp the character.”

He said he hopes audience members appreciate distinct class structures after seeing “My Fair Lady.”

“Our relationship bridges that gap between the classes,” Erdman said of “Higgins” and “Eliza Doolittle.” Romance supersedes all class definitions and Erdman hopes audience members will be inspired to speak to someone in their own lives who is different than who they are used to relating to. “I want people to see that when it comes to, whether it’s romance or any relationship, it kind of supersedes class or what your upbringing was.”

“Higgins” is focused on teaching “Eliza” to speak properly, but “Eliza” is focused on the heart.

Karoline Keffer returns to the stage after a lengthy break although she was in ShenanArts’ Christmas concert and in “Anastasia” in November 2023, her first performance with ShenanArts.

Karoline Keffer is “Eliza Doolittle” in the ShenanArts production of “My Fair Lady.”

Acting since she was a freshman in college, Keffer brings “Eliza” to the stage and said her preparation for the role involved having fun. As a child, Keffer and her siblings quoted “My Fair Lady.” She watched actor Michael Caine and YouTube videos to learn the cockney British accents.

She hopes audience members get lost in the production’s story and romance.

“To me, the thing I enjoy the most about a show, as a voice student, I always kind of go in and analyze singing, voices and things,” Keffer said. She enjoys being brought into a story.

Performances are scheduled Friday, May 10, 2024 to Sunday, May 12 and Friday, May 17 to Sunday, May 19. Friday and Saturday shows start at 7 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $12 to $19 per person, including fees, and available online. Tickets are also available at the ShenanArts box office approximately 30 minutes prior to each performance.

ShenanArts presents ‘My Fair Lady’ during film’s 60th anniversary – Augusta Free Press

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.