One ‘Fine’ Musical

One ‘Fine’ Musical

‘My Fair Lady’ a joyous journey for FSLT director


When Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” opened on Broadway in 1956, it was an immediate sensation. The New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson called it a “wonderful” and “genius” production. Famed Broadway composer John Kander said it was “the perfect show.” It would ultimately run for six-and-a-half years on Broadway, a record at the time, and win nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Performance by Leading Actor and Actress and Best Direction of a Musical. The 1964 movie, starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, was also a runaway success that netted eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director and Actor.

But for Valerie Valentine, the director of Fort Smith Little Theatre’s production of the famed musical, which opens July 19, the attraction to this particular show was much more personal.

“It’s very nostalgic for me,” says Valentine. “I have a lot of memories of watching it [on television] with my family. I think what drew me to it was how feisty Eliza is. I was a pretty feisty child myself, so I connected with her.”

Eliza Doolittle is a Cockney flower girl who wrangles with phoneticist Henry Higgins as he attempts to win a bet by turning her into a member of the London upper class. Alan Jay Lerner adapted the book for the musical from George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion.”

“So many other people have grown up watching this movie over and over again, or maybe [they] even saw it on Broadway,” says Valentine. “It’s a show that means a lot to many people, and that has made me very excited and very honored to bring it to our area.

“Maybe a little nervous, too.”

Musical theater veteran Valentine is more accustomed to performing in musicals than she is to directing them; this is the third show she has directed for FSLT, but it is the first musical.

“I’ve actually always shied away from directing musicals, because I thought I would miss performing in them,” says Valentine, who has a degree in musical theater. “But I’ve actually not missed performing at all, which is very exciting to me. I’ve really enjoyed helping to lead the team — leading everyone on their journey, helping them to find their characters. I think I’m more invested in this show than I would be if I were just playing a part.

“People need to know that this a wonderful group of people, cast and crew, who have dedicated an entire summer to learn this show or develop costumes or create a set.”

The show features 24 musical numbers including classics like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “With a Little Bit of Luck,” “The Rain in Spain” and “Just You Wait.” Valentine says choosing a favorite song from the well-known score is nearly impossible.

“Coming in to the show, it would have been ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’,” says Valentine. “But I have grown to absolutely adore ‘The Ascot Gavotte’. The dance is precious, and the people performing it make me smile every time I watch it. I also cannot help but smile watching ‘I’m an Ordinary Man’. It’s such a ridiculous song — it makes me chuckle every time. There are great moments in so many of the songs.”

Valentine is convinced the phenomenal music, sublime mix of comedy and romance, optimistic message of redemption and hard work and skill of her cast will win over Fort Smith audiences.

“I think part of the appeal of this show is Eliza herself — that message that you can make yourself better, you can improve your lot in life if you work hard,” says Valentine. “You can make it through a challenging time and move into something better. From a musical aspect, you cannot walk out of there and not have the songs stuck in your head — in a good way. You could listen to it over and over again.

“If you combine a good story with great music, it just sticks with you.”



‘My Fair Lady’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. July 19-21; 2 p.m. July 22; 7:30 p.m. July 25-28; 2 p.m. July 29; & 7:30 p.m. Aug. 2-4

WHERE — Fort Smith Little Theatre, 401 N. Sixth St.

COST — $15-$30

INFO — 783-2966

Categories: Theater