‘My Fair Lady’ opens new jewel-box theater at Foothill

Imagine being right in Henry Higgins’ study watching as he coaches Eliza Doolittle on the fine points of the English language. Actually, you can experience it live: Foothill College in Los Altos Hills is unveiling its new jewel-box theater, the Lohman Theatre, with a presentation of the Tony Award-winning musical “My Fair Lady.”

The classic, of course, is based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” The book and lyrics are by Alan Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The show opened in 1956 in New York and was followed by the famous film version and numerous revivals.

The play begins outside Covent Gardens on a rainy evening in 1912, when Professor Higgins hears cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle speak. Spurred on by a wager with Col. Pickering, Higgins decides to transform Eliza in speech, manner and dress into a duchess. But Eliza has her own ideas.

Kit Wilder, who plays Higgins, has acted in the BayArea since he was 11. He calls “My Fair Lady” a “play about words. Words have drawn me to the theater. I love the glory of language on its foundation level.”

He describes Higgins as self-absorbed, wickedly smart, arrogant, judgmental, bordering on anti-social and feeling extremely superior, a portrait of George Bernard Shaw. “Higgins goes through a transformation,” he says. “All the characters have an effect on him, and his eyes open to different ways of looking at the world, especially women.”

Mindy Lym, who plays Eliza, remembers watching the movie with Audrey Hepburn over and over when she was a child. “I looked up to her, and feel this is the role of a lifetime for me,” she says. “Eliza is remaking herself as an individual. Here she is taking herself out of one reality and going into another, doing an interior change, step by step. In today’s world it could be a midlife crisis or changing jobs or relationships It involves taking a good look at yourself.”

She sees Eliza as loving life, yet also displaying a survival note along with extra spunk and sparkle. “In her transformation becoming a lady, she never loses those qualities. She is joy and life to the end,” Lym says.

For director Jay Manley, this Foothill production isn’t his only association with “My Fair Lady.” He produced the musical 15 years ago, and calls it the perfect show, well-crafted and with stunning music.

“My biggest challenge has been presenting this production in our new small intimate theater,” he says. “The scenes all take place in the study, with other locations around it. Fully costumed, it will be staged with two piano orchestrations, which we actually researched from the original dance orchestrations. My goal is to bring the audience as close to feeling a part of this intimate show.”

The Foothill Music Theatre production runs through March 16; the theater is located at Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. Tickets are $10 to $24. Call (650) 949-7360, (650) 949-7414 or visit www.foothillmusicals.com.

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