'My Fair Lady' has freshman standout in Doolittle role

Thursday, April 12, 2007
Henry Higgins (played by Blake Palmer) instructed Eliza Doolittle (Autumn Vandeven) how to pronounce her H's in the Notre Dame Regional High School production of "My Fair Lady." (Kit Doyle)

Thirty-three years have passed since Notre Dame Regional High School last took on the task of bringing "My Fair Lady" to the high school stage.

Back then Jan Kohlfeld filled the lead role of the street-urchin-turned-London-sophisticate, Eliza Doolittle. No matter how good Kohlfeld's 1974 performance was, it's doubtful that performance could top the one delivered this year by freshman Autumn Vandeven in her Notre Dame musical debut.

The Notre Dame musical tradition goes back to 1966, and while this is just speculation, it may be safe to say a Notre Dame musical has never seen a freshman as talented as Vandeven. Throughout "My Fair Lady," she's in the spotlight, and she never seems to shy away from the brightness.

But Vandeven has plenty of time to soak up the spotlight, as the plot of "My Fair Lady" centers squarely on her capable shoulders. Vandeven's Eliza Doolittle is a poor English girl caught up in the middle of a bet between two haughty, classist English gentlemen, Professor Higgins (a convincingly self-important and stuck-up junior Blake Palmer) and Col. Pickering (junior Joseph Stoverink). Higgins bets Pickering that he can pass Doolittle off as a lady of gentle upbringing at an upscale ball within six weeks.

You might be familiar with the 1964 film with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, but this production is based on the Lerner and Loewe musical based on "Pygmalion" by George Bernard Shaw.

As an actress, Vandeven has no problem transitioning from the almost incomprehensibly thick Cockney accent Eliza has at the beginning of the story and the refined English she begins to speak about halfway through. Nor does Vandeven have trouble handling the array of well-known songs her character sings, some of which reach the height of the pitch range most high school musical actors are capable of.

Add to these skills the intangible, endearing qualities Vandeven brings to the character, and you can bet Notre Dame has a musical star for the duration of her time at the school.

Vandeven is not the only high point of this production, though. As always, the volunteer orchestra adds a rich depth to Notre Dame's musicals, creating a total musical experience. Meanwhile Palmer inspires pure contempt as Higgins. We all know the type, someone who thinks he's better than everyone. The hatred Higgins displays for those of lower means than himself is almost criminal, as he tells Eliza she has no right to live because of her Cockney accent.

Sure, the chorus performers could show a bit more conviction at times and some technical glitches were still being worked out during dress rehearsal (those bugs may be worked out by tonight). But overall "My Fair Lady" is worth your time just to see some of the high school talent that will take this time-honored stage.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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