Toff cleared for take-off

By MELANYA BURROWS


Henry Higgins is an international flight attendant and Eliza Doolittle a midwife in this production of My Fair Lady.

It is not some post-modern interpretation that drags Cockney Eliza and toff Henry into the 21st century, but rather the day jobs the actors must juggle as they pursue their passion for theatre.

My Fair Lady is being presented by the North Shore Music Theatre, an amateur musical company with more than amateur production values.

The players are a mix of amateur and professional, although all perform for love of the limelight, not money.

The costumes, props and set - which fill three shipping containers - are all professionally designed and made.

Between them, the cast and crew have hundreds of years of performing experience.

Blair McKinnon, who plays Henry Higgins, typifies the passionate amateur performer. He started acting at high school and has been performing for 30 years.

"There is no way I could make a living from it in New Zealand, but it is my passion," McKinnon says.

"I enjoy doing theatre and love the adrenalin rush and the feedback from a live audience."

McKinnon is an international flight attendant with Air New Zealand, which allows him to see plays and musicals overseas.

But his flight schedule makes it difficult to take part in productions and for My Fair Lady he is taking annual leave.

Being on leave allows him to throw himself into his role. In preparation for being Henry Higgins, McKinnon has read George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion to explore the origins of My Fair Lady, and read a clutch of biographies of actors linked with the musical and movie, from Rex Harrison to Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews and Jeremy Irons.

"Henry Higgins is a tried and tested role and a popular favourite with audiences. It is interesting because it is such an unusual singing part. It was created for an actor who didn't really have a lot of singing ability. So the music was adapted to the actor. Harrison called it talk-sing."

McKinnon says he can sympathise with Harrison. Although he has had vocal training, and performed in many musicals, he considers himself an actor first and a singer second.

Not so for his female co-star, Christine Creagh, who plays Eliza. Creagh is devoted to singing and says the acting follows on from the music.

Like McKinnon, she has to juggle performing with an incompatible occupation.

She is a hospital midwife, who has had to switch from full-time work to casual shifts to accommodate My Fair Lady.

She is feeling the pinch in her wallet, but says she does not care because she loves performing so much. This time around though, she is a little nervous - Eliza is her biggest role to date, and the Bruce Mason Centre the largest theatre she has performed in.

But director Grant Meese is totally confident about his actors' abilities. He says rehearsals have been running well, and they are looking forward to opening night.

"My Fair Lady is the classic of musical theatre," says Meese. "It has a great script, well-known songs, interesting characters, and it's so cleverly written that people are entranced by it."

Based on Shaw's Pygmalion, My Fair Lady opened for the first time on Broadway with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in the leading roles. It won seven Tony awards the following year. In 1963, Warner Brothers produced a film version, starring Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, which won eight Academy Awards.

On stage

*What: My Fair Lady

*Where and when: Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Oct 28-Nov 6

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 23 Jul 2014 12:07:31 Processing Time: 849ms