Scott MacGowan thinks Rex Harrison’s performance in “My Fair Lady” is up there with the best of them. His own Henry Higgins, however, will be a much kinder and gentler man.
“You take away from people what you can, but I’m a bit younger than he was and I am a singer,” said MacGowan, who plays Higgins in the Oldcastle Theatre Company production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical from 1956.
“His Higgins was a confirmed old bachelor and maybe misogynistic, and in this production we’re trying to make it more of a love story. He’s going to be a bit younger, and we’re not going to have him be so hateful.”
Oldcastle’s production begins Friday night and runs through Aug. 31. Emma Ritchie, a 2010 Syracuse University graduate, is playing Eliza Doolittle, Peter Langstaff is Colonel Pickering and Richard Howe is Alfred P. Doolittle. Frank Latson is directing, and Tim Howard is the musical director.
A Philadelphia native living in New York City, MacGowan has performed in “My Fair Lady” before, but only recently has he become old enough to play Higgins. His previous roles have included Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Zoltan Karpathy and Jamie, one of Alfred Doolittle’s cohorts.
‘My Fair Lady’
WHERE: Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St., Bennington, Vt.
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Aug. 31; performance times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. this Sunday, and 2 p.m. Aug. 24 and 31
HOW MUCH: $37-$10
MORE INFO: www.oldcastletheatre.org, (802) 447-0564
“Yes, I am older than I was,” said MacGowan, laughing. “But the script calls for him to be 40-something, a bit younger than Harrison was, and our Eliza is very young, pretty much just out of college, so our director wanted our Higgins to be a bit younger. The way the script is actually written, the age issue isn’t a problem for us.”
Latson, who was a regular at Oldcastle back in the 1990s and has been in California and Texas directing since then, was happy to have two relatively “young” actors to deal with in the featured roles.
“I think Julie Andrews was only 19 when she first did it on stage, and for our purposes — we want to have some romantic notion between the two characters — the two actors we have our perfect,” said Latson.
“You want to feel a sense that they do care for each other, and you want to feel that grow during the arc of the show. If you don’t sense that, then we haven’t done our job.”
“My Fair Lady” is based on the George Bernard Shaw play “Pygmalion,” written in 1912.
Tony, Oscar winner
The story of a cockney flower girl who blooms into a refined and beautiful woman with Higgins’ help, the Broadway show was nominated for 10 Tonys and won six of them, including Best Musical for Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.
Harrison earned one of those Tonys for his performance, and in 1964 when Hollywood made the movie version, he won again for Best Actor, one of the eight Oscars awarded to the film.
“He talks through much of the songs,” MacGowan said of Harrison, “but there were actually notes written for all of those songs. ‘Why Can’t the English?’ is pretty much a rant, and so is ‘I’m an Ordinary Man,’ but there are some great tunes I get to do, like ‘I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,’ that are really beautiful and lend themselves to be sung.”
As for Eliza Doolittle, Ritchie handles those wonderful tunes splendidly, according to Latson.
“She has one of those rich, creamy voices with so much warmth and depth to it,” he said. “She can sing into the stratosphere, and what a good actress. We’re very lucky to have her.”
The instrumental music in the show will be handled by two piano players.
“There is a version of the show written for two pianos, and it is so elegant and very strong,” said Latson. “The music of this show never goes away. It’s great music, and the story tells a timeless tale.”
“That’s why it’s still so popular today,” said MacGowan. “The music is phenomenal, and the themes are love and class distinctions. We’re trying to get rid of class distinctions, but they’re still with us today and that’s why the show is still so relevant.”