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Bringing ‘My Fair Lady’ to Stage

Potomac Theatre Company’s production opens this Friday.

David Berkenbilt (Col. Pickering), Nan Muntzing (Mrs. Higgins), Phil McLeod (Freddy Gynsford-Hill), Mary Wakefield (Eliza Doolittle), and Ken Kemp (Henry Higgins).

David Berkenbilt (Col. Pickering), Nan Muntzing (Mrs. Higgins), Phil McLeod (Freddy Gynsford-Hill), Mary Wakefield (Eliza Doolittle), and Ken Kemp (Henry Higgins). Harvey Levine

This month The Potomac Theatre Company presents Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's “My Fair Lady.” The musical tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, so that she may pass as a well-born lady.

The 1956 Broadway production set the record at the time for the longest running musical theatre production in history. The original cast starred Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. The play is based on George Bernard Shaw's “Pygmalion.”

“My Fair Lady” features a long list of popular songs, including "Loverly," "I Could Have Danced All Night," and "Get Me to the Church On Time," all accompanied by a live orchestra.

This show was one of the first integrated musicals, where the songs and dancing are integral to move along the plot.

"My Fair Lady is my favorite musical so it was a no-brainer to work on the production,” said choregrapher Melanie Barber. “I combined basic jazz and ballet technique in the choreography. Since the cast had various dance experiences, we were able to create strong numbers while not overwhelming everyone. A lot of hard work, but it was worthwhile."

Ken Kemp plays Higgins and describes his character as "essentially an anti-social misogynist. He doesn't like people or women. He doesn't understand them or his own feelings. My challenge as an actor is to take a self-centered and socially awkward character and make him lovable. Everyone exists as a mean to an end for him. If someone is not useful to him they are not important to him. He and Eliza develop a respect for each other and go on a journey together. Higgins is a fascinating character study. I am thrilled to be a part of this classic show. This is a fun, family show. It asks the question 'How can I change the world one person at a time to make a better world?'"

Mary Wakefield is "so grateful. Having the opportunity to play Eliza Doolittle is more than I could have hoped for. She might be, if not the best, one of the top three best roles ever written. The range of the character is phenomenal. You are looking at the shoes that came before you like Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn and it just really puts you in awe. The character goes through a transformation on the surface from a dirty, improper girl to a lady. The role is very easy and fun especially the way Lerner and Loewe wrote it. Eliza is a crybaby at first; she bursts into tears in every scene but at the end she is so self confident. It is fun to watch her grow up and grow into herself and who she is. My favorite scene is Ascot. I get to wear an amazing costume and during the story about the aunt it is almost impossible to keep a straight face. ‘My Fair Lady’ is probably one of the best musicals written for sheet entertainment and memorable songs. "

David Berkenbilt, who plays Colonel Pickering, said, "I did not really know what to expect when I accepted the part of Pickering. As I learned the part, and with Kevin Sockwell's great direction and suggestions, Pickering develops as a very kind man, with great respect for Higgin's work and tends to accept but not completely agree with Higgins' brash manners.

He quickly develops a “dutch uncle” affection for Eliza, and although he has made a bet with Higgins that the professor cannot transform her into a “lady,” he really wants to see it happen. He is intensely protective of Eliza, and at the same time distractible tending to lose focus at times.

“The part itself requires a lot of concentration since much of the lines are spaced between other actions, and being on stage during the spaces requires careful listening and reacting which is challenging since I seem to share some of Pickering's focus problems but most enjoyable because our Eliza is such a joy to work with and our Higgins really has the chops for his very challenging part and the cast and crew have been great and very supportive."

The production will run at The Blair Center for the Arts at the Bullis School 10601 Falls Road for two weekends: Nov. 16-18 and Nov. 23-25 (Thanksgiving Weekend).

Shows will be Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. The play is directed by Kevin Sockwell and produced by Tammi T. Gardner. The musical director is Ronald Isaacson and choreographer is Melanie Barber. For reservations call 301-299-8571. Tickets are $20; $18 for seniors and students; 20 percent off prepaid groups of 10 For more information visit http://potomactheatreco.org. The Hunters Inn will be offering a pre-theater special dinner menu for $20 per person on Friday and Saturday nights of show days from 5:30 till 6:30 p.m. Ticket holders can call and make a reservation after purchasing their tickets at 301-299-9300 and mention that they are going to the show. The Hunters Inn is located at 10123 River Road. For more information go to www.thehuntersinn.com.