The transformation in ‘My Fair Lady’ transports audience

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

RIPLEY – The play “My Fair Lady” has been called “the perfect musical.”
The Dixie Theatre’s production of the play, which opens Aug. 14 for five performances, gives another audience of experienced theater-goers as well as people new to musical theater, a chance to experience the half-century-old lighthearted story.
Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Call (662) 993-ARTS for reservations.
Local actors bring to life the story from 19th-century London.
Eliza Doolittle is a young, unrefined flower seller in Covent Garden, a working-class part of the city, and her Cockney accent is considered a sign of low class.
When she overhears an egotistical and arrogant speech teacher, Henry Higgins, tell his rival Col. Hugh Pickering that he could transform someone like her into “a lady” who could move in high society simply by improving her speech, she tries to hire Higgins to help her change. She wants to work in a flower shop.
Instead, Higgins and Pickering make a bet. Pickering doesn’t believe Higgins can bring about the change he says, so Pickering will pay for Eliza’s lessons himself.
“It’s a famous musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Pygmallion,’” said producer Melinda Marsalis, who also has a small part in the play. Joyce Graddy is director.
Molly Moore is cast in the lead role of Eliza, with Trey Hankins as the transformative Higgins.
Higgins’ rival Pickering is played by Dan Shappley, with Eliza’s father Alfred Doolittle played by Jason Harms.
“It’s fun to play someone totally different from yourself,” said Harms, pastor of Ripley First United Methodist Church.
In their professional lives Moore is a nurse, Hankins is in corporate finance and a musician at First Baptist Church in Tupelo, while Shappley, Graddy and Marsalis work with children in the South Tippah School District.
Each cast member has been a part of other productions with Dixie Theatre, as often behind the scenes as out front on stage.
“It’s a real time commitment, so you have to love it,” Shappley said.
Shappley is also a member of the Ripley Arts Council, the group that chooses the theater’s productions.
“My Fair Lady” is the fourth of five productions this year, with “Rebecca” planned as the year’s final production in October.
“This community has an enormous amount of talent to showcase, and we try to do a mix of comedies, dramas, musicals and plays to appeal to everyone,” Shappley said. “We choose productions with name recognition, things people have heard of before.”
Each production brings about different mixes of people who come together to make up the casts, as well as calling upon different skills and talents for the various roles.
“For me, getting the accents right is one of the hardest things since Eliza has two, the Cockney accent and the gentle lady,” Moore said.
Since this production is a musical, it also involves more cast members than usual, and musicals are generally more costly to produce. Cook Coggin Engineers is underwriting this show.
“It takes all the pieces coming together – a good crew, set manager, costume mistress, music, advertising, cast members,” Marsalis said. “It is amazing when you see it all come together and everything works.”
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com