Poor Professor Higgins.
When Portales High School junior Bryan Gore assumes the role of the curmudgeonly phoneticist Henry Higgins in this weekend’s production of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, “My Fair Lady,” he will be faced with the added challenge of refining not one, but two Eliza Doolittles.
PHS senior Haley Bonner and junior Hannah Christensen are double-cast in the lead role of the flower-selling Cockney girl taken in by Higgins to be transformed into a proper lady.
As for the two Elizas, they couldn’t be happier to be cast in this “loverly” role.
“I’ve watched the movie with my nana since I was 5,” Bonner said. Christensen says it is her “all-time favorite musical,” and one she’s lobbied hard to bring to the PHS stage.
Bonner and Christensen will alternate performances as Eliza, and are also double-cast as Mrs. Pearce, the no-nonsense housekeeper who keeps Higgins’ home in running order.
Christensen says the dual roles can be challenging, noting that “it seems harder to maintain the older refined character” of Mrs. Pearce in her scenes with “the other Eliza.”
The cast members are aware their show will draw an audience likely to be familiar with this beloved adaption of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.”
Bonner says playing a well-known character such as Eliza Doolittle is “in some ways inhibiting, but in other ways nice, because you don’t have to make up your own version.”
The cast will be supported by a full pit, led by veteran pianist James Golden, a PHS alumnus now finishing his education at ENMU.
Franklin Smith, choir director for grades seven through 12 in the Portales schools, oversees the melodic portions of the production as he’s done for the past 12 years, while this show marks the 15th annual musical for PHS drama teacher and director Bill Strong.
Smith and Strong have a “check-and-balance relationship,” Smith says, and even though this production is being assembled in a record six weeks, “it always comes together at the end. I know and he knows, so I don’t know why we always have to have a heart attack to get there.”
Strong said because of the short rehearsal time that “we have had more student involvement in this production than any we have done.” Students have created their own choreography for the dance scenes, and this show is also the first for which Strong has not sewn a single costume. Cast members and parents have stepped up to the sewing machine and scrounged local thrift stores for the multiple costumes needed.
In spite of long hours, late nights and lost lines, “it’s still fun,” Strong says with a grin.