Ambitious And Stubborn: Shereen Ahmed is her own ‘Fair Lady’

Ambitious And Stubborn: Shereen Ahmed is her own ‘Fair Lady’
MONICA HOOPER/APRIL WALLACE
mhooper@nwaonline.com

awallace@nwaonline.com

Like her Eliza Doolittle, Shereen Ahmed started down a different path but found the right one for her.

The lead actor in Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady,” stopping Aug. 9-14 at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, holds a bachelor’s of science in sociology and anthropology with a concentration in criminal justice from Towson University in Maryland.

“I was studying criminal justice, and I was still doing community theater on the side and taking voice lessons and acting lessons and all the things,” she explains. “I think the reason why I studied criminal justice is really because I was so fascinated by people and their stories and why people do what they do and make the choices that they make.”

She was also paying for the lessons out of her own pocket while earning her degree and hopping buses to auditions in New York from her native Baltimore.

“I still had this passion to act, though. And so everything that I did in my studies informed everything I did on stage. When I graduated, I was like, ‘You know what, I need to see if there’s something to acting.’ And I auditioned for ‘My Fair Lady,’ and the rest was history,” Ahmed says. “It was my Broadway debut, first Broadway role, my first tour — everything I can’t believe we’re coming to an end soon.”

According to a profile in The Washington Post, she was cast in the ensemble of director Bartlett Sher’s “My Fair Lady” revival for Lincoln Center Theater just two weeks after moving to New York. She reportedly showed up to the open audition without an appointment and wowed the director. She later worked her way up to for Eliza and then eventually took over the role.

“[Eliza’s] such an independent, ambitious woman who wants to better her life by changing her speech. I think she’s stubborn in the best ways possible. Which is exactly like me, I’m stubborn,” Ahmed says. “Once I have my eyes set on something, there’s no pulling me away from that. There’s no convincing me otherwise, convincing me that I can’t do it.

“The thing that’s amazing about her is that she’s really her own engine from the beginning. She stands up for herself. She’s a leader in so many ways, and she’s taught me how to become more like her.”

Taking a cue from Eliza, Ahmed says that she’s learned to advocate for herself within the show too.

“Having to perform Eliza eight times a week, it’s really demanding — vocally, physically. It’s made me have to stick up for myself in different ways or know when to take a show off or figure things out on my own and be communicative with the team around me of what I need in the moment to be successful in this. So there’s so many similarities. I feel like I’ve become one with Eliza.”

In addition to making the role her own, this is the first instance where an Arab American actor has taken on the part of Eliza. In a previous interview, Ahmed said: “It’s a big, big moment for our community to be seen outside of this realm of Arab stories to be seen in a traditional musical theater role and one of the most iconic as well.”

She elaborates: “I think for me, personally, it just feels freeing to be portrayed in a story that has nothing to do with my background, you know. … Those stories exist, and they’re important in their own right, but I think I just wanted to be challenged outside of what is already being presented of me. And ‘My Fair Lady’ is the perfect show because no one refers to my race, my religion, my background, ethnicity — nothing. It feels amazing. … Whereas, you know, being cast in ‘Aladdin’ is not like a big stretch.

“At the heart of it is a story about working to make your dreams come true, and about hope, and joy. And I think everyone needs a little bit of that right now. Especially after what we’ve all been through the last few years.

This show, really encapsulates all of that. You have comedy. It’s fun. It’s family friendly. But then there’s another layer to it. We talk about class structure: What does that look like? What are the choices that that women have in society? And how far can they can they go? Can they really have it all?’ Those are examined as well. It’s the ‘My Fair Lady’ that we all know and love. I think that we just put it under a microscope. And so it’s really for everyone. It’s a wonderful show. And it’s incredibly modern.”

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FAQ

‘My Fair Lady’

WHEN — 8 p.m. Aug. 12; 2 & 8 p.m. Aug. 13; 2 p.m. Aug. 14

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $41 & up

INFO — waltonartscenter.org

Categories: Theater