Most of the big fireworks displays were still several hours away, but inside the Pickard Theater on Sunday afternoon, fireworks of a different kind were sparking between a poor flower girl from England and an obnoxious, aristocratic professor.

Maine State Music Theatre was entertaining patrons with a matinee performance of “My Fair Lady” that was surprisingly smooth, especially since the production almost ground to a halt Thursday after only two preview performances Wednesday.

The press was to begin reviewing “My Fair Lady” on Thursday, but were advised late in the day that the reviews would need to be rescheduled due to “technical problems.” Executive director Steven C. Peterson offered an explanation at the matinee Sunday.

Kate Fisher, the production’s Eliza Doolittle, unexpectedly developed laryngitis Thursday and was unable to perform per her doctor’s orders. With no understudy, the theater was at a loss until performance intern Michael Borges suggested they give Brittney Morello, who was about to catch a bus home to Massachusetts, a chance in the musical’s starring role.

She still had a script handy Sunday, which she periodically glanced at, but, otherwise you’d never guess the recent Emerson College graduate was unceremoniously thrust into the role just three days prior. It’s a Hollywood-like happy ending that in a way parallels Eliza Doolittle’s. And, like Eliza, Morello can proudly say, “I did it.”

Fisher is due to return to the role, but patrons who go see the performance with Morello starring definitely won’t be losing out. The engaging young actor has all the charm, spunk and sass you’d expect from Eliza Doolittle and a beautiful, powerful vocal to match. She easily won over patrons Sunday.

Morello performs with a superb 17-member cast. British native Peter Simon Hilton co-stars as Eliza’s verbal sparing partner, Professor Henry Higgins. The actor, who is new to Maine State, is a perfect choice to play Eliza’s dialect coach, providing a diverting combination or imperialistic snobbery with an impeccable command of the English language. “Hymn to Him” is a definite treat.

The musical stars several Maine State favorites, including John-Charles Kelly as the gentlemanly Colonel Pickering, Ed Romanoff as Eliza’s opportunistic father and Charis Leos as Professor Higgins’ feisty housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. All three are crowd pleasers.

Chuck Ragsdale returns to Maine State as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, delivering a splendidly melodic rendition of “On the Street Where You Live.” And, AIRE Theater’s artistic director, Tony Reilly, makes his Maine State debut in a variety of outrageous roles.

Jane Altman delightfully reprises her role as Professor Higgins’ spirited mother, a role she performed previously at Maine State 15 years ago.

Rounding out the cast is a talented group of singers and dancers who deliver gorgeous harmonies and energetic footwork, under the direction of choreographer Connie Shafer. Edward Reichert and Brian Cimmet provide seamless orchestration on twin pianos from the orchestra pit.

“My Fair Lady” may not have gone according to plan, but that hasn’t stopped the theater from delivering a fun and entertaining production that gives patrons plenty of bang for their buck.

 

April Boyle is a free-lance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at: [email protected]