Theater review: ‘My Fair Lady’ doesn’t quite sparkle

Actor twists ankle during a Saturday evening performance of “My Fair Lady” at Georgia Ensemble Theatre.

Determined that the show must go on, trouper appears on crutches in time for the very next curtain.

Actor hams it up during dance numbers, winning hearts of audience and assuring that everyone gets to the church on time!

***

When Georgia Ensemble artistic director Robert J. Farley sheepishly informed Sunday matineegoers that performer Mark Cabus had hurt himself and would appear on crutches, you could almost feel the audience’s schadenfreude. Would this end with a triumph, or with a splat?

But this is the magic of live theater. For every accident and flub, there’s a split-second recovery. In the case of the unflappable Cabus, all eyes were on his left foot, covered in a sock and delicately balanced to avoid putting pressure on it. (Ouch!)

Cabus, who plays Eliza Doolittle’s rapscallion father, Alfred, in the Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner classic, is a known scenery chomper. So, of course, he wouldn’t dare miss an opportunity to upstage his company with dancing crutches and other improvisational shenanigans.

With a little bit of luck, Cabus will heal quickly. But it might not be a bad idea for him to keep milking his crutch gag for all it’s worth.

Truth is, Georgia Ensemble’s lean, 10-actor version of “My Fair Lady,” starring the big-voiced Carey Curtis Smith as Henry Higgins, the phonetician who transforms Cockney flower girl Eliza (Molly Coyne) into a princess, needs a jolt of inspiration to keep us jaded old fuddy-duddies awake.

Director Don Farrell stages a perfectly respectable but not especially remarkable account of the 1956 Broadway musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play “Pygmalion.” For this two-piano version, Bill Newberry and Jeff Herndon perch behind their instruments on tiers in the middle of the stage — a device that distracts more than it cushions and sounds a little klutzy at times. (When an orchestra is good, you forget it is there. But there’s no escaping these two pianos, which look like package decorations on designer Stephanie Polhemus’ living-room-like set. )

Coyne is a funny Eliza who sings beautifully and makes a nice metamorphosis from hissing duckling to gossamer swan. But she’d probably be more at home in a really first-rate college production than in the orbit of such stage vets as Smith, Cabus and William S. Murphey (Pickering). For “My Fair Lady” to work, you need an Eliza who can hold her own with the misogynistic Henry (played to a debonair hilt by Smith). I’m not sure Coyne does.

As Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Eliza’s suitor, Kyle Brumley is an appropriately tender deer-in-the-headlights type. Googie Uterhardt, in a variety of roles, is delightful, as always. Jackie Prucha makes for an elegant if not arch Mrs. Higgins, leading the black-and-white fashion parade in the “Ascot Gavotte.”

If only Farrell and choreographer Dori Garziano Leeman could imbue the effort with the vividness of Emmie Childers’ Edwardian-era costumes, the show might make a splash. Instead, it too often seems to drag along, which is why Cabus — God bless him — is such a welcome comedic diversion.

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