Posts Tagged ‘ My Fair Lady ’

Behind the scenes on opening night


Canterbury Operatic Society’s production of My Fair Lady opened last night, to a very appreciative audience.  I thought I would offer my readers a (long!) glimpse behind the scenes – what was the day like for me, playing Freddy Eynsford-Hill?

The day involved: a bit of running around the High Street searching for those last minute items I so desperately needed (facial wipes for the destruction of make-up, micropore for the fixing of microphone wires to the neck, and a wide white ribbon to transform into an unravelled bow tie); making my ‘have a good show’ cards, which used quotes from my character with relevant pictures; phoning home to arrange my parents’ visit at the weekend; and a last flurry of panic before leaving for the theatre.  Have I got the right colour socks on?  Have I put everything I need in my bag?  Is my voice working properly?  Should I eat something?  Can I eat something?  Have I remembered to shave?  Where is my glasses case?  Have I done cards for everyone I wanted to do cards for?  Am I breathing?  And so on.

Finally, it is time to head out to the theatre.  I arrive a little before 6.30pm, and wander the corridors handing out my cards, crossing back and forth with a number of others carrying out the same mission.  The musical director gives out bookmarks to her soloists, the director hand makes cards, one of the maids distributes special boxes of sweets to the different dressing rooms.  Soon, though, the flurry of activity is over, and everyone drifts back to their own dressing rooms, or starts gathering bits and pieces from wardrobe or props.

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Cold taxis – cutting edge comedy?


Most theatrical productions include moments which mean more to the performers than to the audience – lines or bits of business which, for whatever reason, acquired particular resonance during rehearsals or performance.  Sometimes it may be because someone was struggling with something, so it becomes a shared joy when a moment finally works.  Sometimes it’s a choreographic moment which is universally loved, so that the wings get crowded with cast and crew watching every night.  Sometimes there’s a funny rehearsal story attached to a particular line.  And at other times, there is no reason for it at all.

In My Fair Lady this week, it is my lot to deliver one of this production’s lines, a line which many in the company find extremely funny indeed, and yet none of us can work out why.  The line is this zinger:

Eliza, it’s getting awfully cold in that taxi.

Not exactly comedy gold.  My character, the perfectly useless Freddy Eynsford-Hill, is only in this scene in order to get Eliza off the stage and allow her father and the chorus to launch themselves into ‘Get Me to the Church On Time’.  It is dawn, so it would be rather cold, even in a taxi.  There are numerous ways I could say this line to make it funny, and I have experimented.  There’s the suggestive, the teeth-chattering, the whiny.  Rather than spoil the scene with any of these, we are going with a simple statement of fact, yet the first time we reached the scene in question with the whole cast present, it provoked chuckles, giggles, titters and outright laughter.

This has continued to be the case and as the dress rehearsal is in only a few more hours (that’s all the time we’ve got…), it is surely now a problem.  Nobody can put their finger on why the cast are amused, including the director and others in positions of authority.  The only explanation that has been forthcoming is from the lovely chap who plays Alfred Doolittle, who says it’s because it’s “just so good”, which really doesn’t explain things.  Unfortunately, he is on stage as I deliver that blasted line and struggles to maintain a straight face.

It may just be my imagination, but I’m sure the tension now mounts among the cast as that line approaches.  We know we can’t laugh and we know it’s not funny, but that makes it so much worse.  The last time we did  the scene, in the last full run-through (which you have to treat almost as a performance), even I was struggling to keep a straight face and I never, ever, corpse in performance, no matter how ridiculous the scene might be.

You can guarantee that the whole cast will remember that one line for years to come, while the rest of the lines, harmonies and dance steps fade away.  For a few dozen people, those few words will live forever.  All we have to do now is make it through one dress rehearsal and six performances without laughing at them.

The Eynsford-Hill inevitability


A little over a year ago, I mentioned that one of the roles which I felt I was almost inevitably likely to play at some point in my life was young Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady.  Not, I think, due to arrogance on my part, but due to the sort of performer than I am and the sort of role that it is.  Well, said point is now on the horizon, the runaway steamroller of this iconic tenor role has well and truly hit me, and I can’t say I’m displeased.  The role is a small one, with relatively little to get to grips with in characterisation beyond “I am madly in love with Eliza Doolittle, who I can’t have”, but there is enough there to make me think that I might be able to do something with it.  And, of course, the role comes with a truly glorious prize in the form of the song ‘On the Street Where You Live’, which he gets to warble twice, once in each act.  I think it is uncontroversial to say that this is one of the best songs in the score, which is already far above average, and one of the best tenor songs in musical theatre.  You do have to slightly overlook the fact that Freddy is clearly utterly mad, and may in fact be a dangerous stalker, since he follows the leading lady home and waits on her street for days on end trying to get a glimpse of her.  But if you can ignore this uncomfortable truth, the song soars and swoops beautifully as the character waxes lyrical about the delights of walking down Wimpole Street, breathing the same air as his beloved.

Auditions for the production (which will run from 4th-8th March at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury should any discerning blog readers choose to attend) were eight days ago, rounding out the busy weekend which had already included two shows up in London the previous day and the stressful pleasures of teaching Sunday School in the morning.  Although the audition itself surely lasted less than ten minutes, I was in the place of audition for several hours, as they wanted to make decisions and announce results then and there.  This did at least avoid the horrible tensions of waiting for audition results, jumping every time the telephone rings and hiding from the postman.  It was very strange, though, as many people had been acting as though the casting of this particular role was a foregone conclusion, which actually made the audition harder in a way.  However, I refused to subscribe to the prevailing theory since, in amateur theatre just as much as in the professional world, there is always someone out there who is better than you.  No audition is ever truly a foregone conclusion and any audition panel who has made their mind up before the auditionees arrive deserves a good slap!

When I am older and less fresh-faced, I would love to have a crack at Professor Henry Higgins, a marvellous role for an actor who sings which would represent an incredible challenge.  But for now I will strive to do my best by the silly Eynsford-Hill boy, warble my aria passionately and continue to learn from those I perform with.  The role, though comparatively short on stage time, does present its own set of challenges and I am determined to make it my own.

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