By MIKE CHAIKEN
Taking a common lump of coal and polishing it into a precious diamond is a common plot in literature and film.
Think about how Cyrano de Bergerac, who polishes up the young Christian and tutors the lad so that he may be more palatable to the fair Roxane.
Or think about how Mr. Miyagi polishes up young Daniel to be a karate champion.
That story of transformation also lies at the heart of the classic stage musical, “My Fair Lady,” which is being performed this weekend and next by the Connecticut Theatre Company.
Professor Higgins transforms the young, very Cockney, Eliza Doolittle into a polished proper Edwardian lady in the story, which is based on George Bernard Shaw’s stage play.
Christine Morel Olson of Lakeville, who plays Eliza, said this story of transformation appeals to audiences because it represents the yearning to “follow your dreams, that if you have this thing you are aspiring to, that may seem to be unattainable, you can still try to go for it.”
“It’s satisfying to see that on stage,” said Christine. “And maybe it appeals to the American dream.”
“I think we all want to believe we can change that way (like Eliza does),” said Patrick Spadaccino of Middletown, who plays Higgins. “We’re all a little rough, I think. Speaking for myself, I am.”
“I’m fascinated by how much Eliza changes and Higgins changes. But you see less of it (with him). But by the end, he is a different man. He just tries to hide it, whereas Eliza embraces (her transformation).”
As for the enduring appeal of “My Fair Lady,” Patrick said, “for myself, I love English culture and I love the accents, the history, and that Edwardian period when manners were s strict and proper… People love that stuff.”
“Beyond that, the characters (of ‘My Fair Lady’) are so deep,” said Patrick. “Higgens hurls some of the best insults I’ve heard in any show… He’s amusing to watch. He’s also an odd mixture of the love interest and the villain depending on how he’s played.”
“It’s really fun to watch that transformation that Eliza goes through,” said Christine of “My Fair Lady’s” appeal. “She starts as this lower class character. She has this accent that’s just grating. You can barely understand her. She learns how to pass as a member of royalty. That’s really exciting to see.”
“Some people may feel it’s a little dated,” said Christine of the show, “However, I think women are still going through this challenge of ‘What’s my role?’ ‘How do I get respect and credit?’ This is especially so for women who are born less fortunate and have to struggle and find their way.”
“I think there is still relevance in 2016 (for ‘My Fair Lady,’” said Christine.
The music, by composer Frederick Loewe and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner is “beautiful,” said Christine. “I love all of Eliza’s songs… They lay so nicely in a soprano.”
“The composers were so smart about how they wrote for each character,” said Chrstine.
“I think Higgins’s songs are amazing. They’re so wordy. They’re just packed with so much information and jokes. You get insight into his passions through his songs,” said Christine.
“(The music) is so rich,” said Patrick. “Especially for Higgins’s part, I don’t think the composers stayed in the key for more than 15 bars and then they’re on to another.”
“Eliza’s songs are just lovely and melodic,” said Patrick.
One of the challenges for Patrick is carving out his own portrayal of Higgins. Actor Rex Harrison, who performed the role on stage and in the movie, set the standard for the role. “I don’t want to clone it,” said Patrick.
Additionally, said Patrick, “(Being a Connecticut Yankee playing an English gentleman is) a challenge because you have to keep the accent perfect. The enunciation has to be perfect. You have to focus every moment on the mechanics of the role. But you also have to make sure you’re conveying the emotion.”
“The proper English is easier to pull off than the Cockney,” said Christine of her character’s accent.
As for the cast and crew of CTC production, Christine said, “I’m just so impressed by the talent and dedication—the hours and hours of work we’re putting into. It shows.”
“You’re going to see a real interpretation (of ‘My Fair Lady’),” said Patrick. “You’re not going to just see cardboard caricatures of characters. You’re going to see real people.”
The rest of the cast of Connecticut Theatre Company’s production of “My Fair Lady” is: Daniel Badowski (Meriden), Jodi Dickson (Burlington), Joshua Ellenberg (Hartford), Erin Frechette (Bristol), Bobby Hannafey (Wallingford), Joan Hedquist (South Glastonbury), Jaelyn Kateches (Middletown), Chris Kulmann (New Britain), Doreen Lopez (Wolcott), Patrick McCabe (Unionville), Calum McConnell (Cheshire), Tullio Milani (Northford), Iesha Rose (Rocky Hill), Hannah Rubitz (New Britain), Pam Simpson (North Branford), Chuck Stango (Middlebury), Angela Williams (Cheshire), Richard Williams (Cheshire), and Kristi Yurko (Bristol).
“My Fair Lady” runs through May 8 at the Repertory Theater, 30 Norden St., New Britain. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25.
For more information, go to www.connecticuttheatrecompany.org.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN