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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

It rained in spain, y'all: ("My Fair Lady" recap!)


This past month I performed as Eliza Doolittle in an all-Yale concert version of My Fair Lady at the Shubert Theater. It featured Yale College graduates (including yours truly), Yale School of Drama alumni, current graduate students, and wittle bitty undergraduate cherubs with dewy Anime eyes and sugar-plum dreams!

I promised a recap, and here it is: a play-by-play of the insanity.

Because it was, in a word, insane.

So, in case I didn't say this before, we put up the show in a week. Sure, some principal characters rehearsed briefly in NYC in the prior months, but for the most part everything was thrown together in seven days! Seven days! To put on My Fair Motherf-ing Lady!

(Meaning, before performing, we ran the show exactly...zero times. Zero! Not until opening night (er, day -- since we opened with a matinee) did we perform the show start to finish, or even run certain scenes in the second act. Ah, the magic of theater!)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

On January 20, Yalies young and less-young trekked from all over the country to sunny (read: blizzardy) New Haven to engage in a week of non-stop theater! And by "non-stop" I mean: morning-noon-and-night rehearsal. Music, dialect, scenes, orchestra, tech, everything!

At first it felt like a kind of suicide mission. This is My Fair Lady, people! One of the most challenging pieces of theater out there!

Eventually I settled on a less morbid metaphor, which was that it was just one big, communal procrastination. That idea really took me back to my college days, when I wrote my entire 40-page thesis on post-colonial literature in the span of two days, and slept in the computer lab while crying.

First rehearsal with the undergraduate cuties
Led by director Marc Vietor, along with producer Amber Edwards, music director David Loud, stage manager Katrina Olson, and alumni liaison Johnson Flucker, a cast of thousands (actually, like 30) rehearsed in small classrooms and/or the basement of Calhoun residential college, which was recently converted from a tiny black room (where I once rehearsed the show Little Shop Of Horrors) into a giant cabaret theater:

Life is a Cabaret, and so is this theater
In off-hours (of which there, sum total, approximately four) (only kidding, ha ha, there were like seven) we shacked up in various dorms and tiny rooms on the Yale Campus and ate our meals the dining hall.

Here is a photo of my room, you weird voyeur
Monday night we ate as a group at historic Mory's, while the Nation's Oldest A Cappella Group the Whiffenpoofs serenaded us in a very distinguished, soporific manner. Love those guys and their suits.

At Mory's, I sat next to director Marc Vietor, who said that the level of his stress directly correlates to the messiness of his hair. I told him I enjoyed his directing style, which was widely positive, except for occasional moments of panic, like he'd be like: "This is amazing, you're all amazing! It's going to be beyond fantastic! That is, if we all don't die."

Then the group reminisced about the Good Ol' Days, which for me was 2004-2008. As it turns out, people who graduated in the late 70s/early 80s experienced Yale as one long open bar, because the drinking age was 18 back then, and everyone was also cool, knew a Vanderbilt, and was a casual alcoholic. Okay, not alcoholic. Just, like, a whimsical drinker with an artist's taste in liquor for breakfast.

In turn, I relayed some gems from my own Yale experience: "Everyone worked all the time, and was super nerdy," said I. And then I laughed heartily, because it was true and truth is funny. "Ha ha ha ha!"

Other down-time highlights: I walked to Walgreens and bought shampoo. I spoke to a man who works at Gourmet Heaven and asked if he remembered me from when I was a student (he didn't). I went to Urban Outfitters and bought socks. I read US Weekly on the toilet.

But down-time is not meant to be riveting. It is meant for each of us to stave off self-doubt / drink coffee in silence / try not to freak out / call our fiances to say "I can't do this!" / listen to our fiances say "Yes, you can!"

Truth time: a lot about the experience was super stressful. I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry a couple times out of sheer exhaustion. I was sick with a major sinus infection three days before arriving in New Haven, and had serious doubts about whether I'd pull through. Not to mention the fact that Eliza, as a role, is incredibly taxing, vocally and acting-wise. She has a ton of yell-y lines ("Aaaaaaaaow!") plus nonstop singing that spans belting and soprano range, as well as two dialects (Cockney and Received Pronunciation British) which gave me strange, cacophonous, vowel-filled nightmares.

But -- and here comes the heartwarming part (get out your tissues) -- despite the tears and doubts, it was one of the best, most rewarding things I've done. Hands down. It was one of those incredibly surreal, heightened experiences, teeming with a "we're all in this together" mentality that bonds you indelibly to a cast and makes you be like "Yes! This is what theater (nay, life!) feels like, at its best."

Which is its beauty and tragedy, as we know: if the elements click and are just right, you get to know a community of people in this weirdly intimate way, forging these connection to one another. You take risks together, and are vulnerable together, and comfort each other, and go to cast parties together in large urban lofts where you eat crab salad on endive.

And in the end you achieve something that once seemed impossible. It's surprising, and affirming, and terrifying.

Then -- in a flash -- it evaporates!

Sigh.

Enough warming of hearts. Let's talk about the cast. It included some champs.

David Alan Grier, Emmy-winner, Tony-nom, all-around brilliant-famous-funny dude, played Doolittle (my character's father) and was basically the coolest person ever? I tweeted at him a bunch during the rehearsal process and was worried he would think I was insane -- but then we actually became super tight! I ended up telling him things about my life that I've literally only told a handful of people (and we now follow each other on Twitter. #friendship).

How to describe him? Just, like, incredibly funny and smart, even when you're talking about mundane stuff or passing time in rehearsal.

One of his coolest traits is he manages to incorporate mini character impersonations during conversation in the most wonderful, fluid way. Like, I told him about my fiance Marshall and how he owns a gym, and he fired back with an insta-impression of what that might mean: "You doin' your squats, babe?" he said to me in a Californian drawl (the imagined voice of Marshall). And I was like, "David Alan Grier, you are the funniest."

Additionally, at the end of tech rehearsal he somehow got me to twerk in front of the entire cast -- and by "got me to twerk" I mean that he started chanting "TWERK IT OUT" over a funky beat, and then I did.

I am not ashamed.

Me and DAG. He has a food blog that you should read.
Reg Rogers, Tony-nom, TV, movie and stage actor, and (in the words of our director Marc) "acting Maserati" played Henry Higgins, Eliza's maybe-love interest (if you know the play, then you know it ends on an ambiguous note). He was a freaking take-no-prisoners badass onstage. And in real life, too. I mean, just look at this orange windbreaker:

I snuck this photo while pretending to
check my email. #creepy
I won't lie to you: Reg was, at first, intimidating. But then he became...shades less intimidating. I'll chalk it up to our roles as Eliza/Higgins and the professor/student paradigm that I wanted to run away screaming / giggle uncontrollably every time we spoke. Who even is to know?

Eventually I was able to converse with him in a manner that was only tinged with awkwardness, as opposed to fully awkward, and even approached him to take ironic selfies. Here are two of them:

"Hi, Reg. Do you mind if we take a hat selfie?" is what I said.
"Hi, Reg. Can we take another selfie because I'm obsessed with you?"
is the exact thing I said here, moments before this was taken.
Fine, fine -- if you keep pressing me, I'll admit it: I have a crush on Reg Rogers. Because is there any role more crush-worthy than Higgins? If you love intellectual snobbery and imperious British people (who doesn't?) then Higgins is the hottest role ever written.

All joking aside (I wasn't joking just now) I had a blast working with Reg.

Moving on.

Hans Tester played the role of Pickering (who is sort of like Henry Higgins' right-hand man / a possible transvestite) and was an absolute doll of a man. Like, picture a doll -- a blonde, Swedish doll -- with the most handsome face you've ever seen, and that is Hans. I'm completely obsessed with Hans, and I'm not afraid to admit it. Throughout the grueling process, Hans was a shoulder to lean on and never failed to make me laugh. He's just an all-around positive, wonderful, engaging person, and way talented to boot! Yay, Hans!

Another amazing dude was Jeremy Weiss, a cutie Yale undergrad! He played Freddy, the fey young fellow who becomes smitten with Eliza after meeting her a single time at a horse race and then proceeds to stalk her outside her home. He also sings the famous song "On the Street Where You Live" which Jeremy murdered every single time. Seriously, whenever he opened his mouth the audience went crazy, and the angels wept.

Cutie Jeremy, me, and handsome Hans
Rounding out the cast was Bill Kux as the narrator, Pamela Gray as Mrs. Higgins, and a fantastic ensemble of opera and musical theater champions. We also performed the piece as a "radio play" meaning we had moments where two Foley Artists, perched off to stage left, provided live sound effects. We were accompanied by an exceptional 50-piece orchestra, which made the angels not only weep, but convulse in hysteria. David Loud was a superb music director and conductor and just, like, the nicest human who gave fantastic direction.

As I wrote to the director Marc in an email, it feels a bit like I've been to war, and now I miss my trench mates. I'm supremely grateful to Yale and the production team for emailing me in October 2013, asking me to join this wonderful feat of theater.

Before I bid you (and the experience) an official farewell, I leave you with an assortment of photos that I took during my week in New Haven.

Jeremy Weiss during rehearsal, looking plucky and adorable

Look 1, my costume fitting, with Seth and Melina (costume designers) 

Look 2! Check out that hat, baby


Lock and load 

For more photos, you can check out the Facebook album, coming soon to my Felicia Ricci page!

Farewell, My Fair Lady! It will always rain in Spain, on this girl's plain!

--FLR


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