Everyone knows “My Fair Lady.”
They’ve seen the musical. Or the movie. They’ve sung “I Could Have Danced All Night” or “The Rain in Spain.” Tapped their toes to “Just You Wait.”
That hasn’t kept Jadd Davis from feeling excited about his production, which opened Thursday at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Coeur d’Alene and kicks off the 2014 Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre season. The decision to program what’s been called the “perfect” musical was easy.
“It’s a brilliant piece of theatre, for one,” said the new CST artistic director. “And it’s a show that audiences want to see over and over again.”
Ultimately, it was the message of the piece that appealed to him.
“I love stories that contain a human journey,” Davis said.
Staging “My Fair Lady” – Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s revered adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” – also gives him the change to have a real star vehicle to kick off the summer.
Playing those leads are Greg Stone as Henry Higgins, a phoneticist, and Allison Standley as Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl. Davis knew them both from his time working in Seattle, most recently appearing with them in “Les Misérables” at Village Theatre in Seattle.
As soon as he had the go-ahead to stage “My Fair Lady,” he offered them the parts.
“I’d worked with Allison several times here in Coeur d’Alene over the years. I knew that she was fabulous. I knew she had the right skill set for this role and the ability to carry a show,” Davis said.
Stone, he added, is a “bona fide Broadway star.” In 2002, he was Fred in the Broadway revival of “Oklahoma!” and has portrayed Jean Valjean in the national tours of “Les Mis.”
“He’s perfect for this role,” Davis said, adding that he and Standley are “really bringing a humongous amount of life and individuality to these roles. While they’re totally staying in the world of the play, it’s completely alive and not a rip-off of other performances.”
Because that’s part of the challenge of staging a play that is so beloved: keeping it fresh.
For many, Henry Higgins will always be Rex Harrison, who originated the role on Broadway and in the movie musical. Julie Andrews, meanwhile, owned the role of Eliza Doolittle – Audrey Hepburn’s controversial casting in the movie notwithstanding.
“My Fair Lady” also resists modernization because it is resolutely about one place in time.
“It’s very decidedly set in 1912. It can’t be sooner than that because we’re running into social boundaries there, and it can’t be later than that because then you’re running into World War I,” Davis said. “So in order for this play to happen, it has to happen exactly when it happens and exactly where it happens. … So there is a challenge in keeping it fresh.”
His approach? Focus on the relationships.
“We’re focusing on people being human beings relating to each other like human beings, as opposed to actors recreating iconic performances,” Davis said.
For some longtime fans of Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, the big question is: Has the company rebounded from last summer?
At the end of the 2013 season, as ticket sales had continued a longtime decline, the board fired the previous administration and shut down the company. A few months later, they announced a new, slimmed down CST, headed by Laura Little.
They cut the number of plays from four to two and relocated from the 1,200-seat Schuller Performing Arts Center at North Idaho College to the 400-seat Worship and Performing Arts Theater at the Coeur d’Alene Kroc Center.
They hired Davis, a Post Falls High School graduate who had spent plenty of time acting in CST productions, as artistic director.
Davis said the transition has gone quite smoothly.
“There was certainly a period of going, ‘Hey everybody. I’m Jadd and this is what we’re doing now.’ I’d been working with the company for 10 years. I know who it was and what is was before, and it was totally dear to my heart,” he said. “One thing that I felt was really important to continue was that this remained a place where people love to come to work.”
He added that because the Kroc was built as a theater, as opposed to the concert hall set up at Schuller, it’s actually a little easier to mount productions in their new home.
“They bill it as a state-of-the-art facility, and it really is.”