'Strong singers' in 'classic' musical at St. Paul

Cary Ashby • Feb 23, 2018 at 11:00 AM

Ben Kowalski said his character, Henry Higgins, “doesn’t realize he’s as terrible as he is.”

“He’s a little out there. He’s a little ignorant,” he explained. “He criticizes people a lot. He brings people down.”

St. Paul High School junior Kaitlyn Bryant, who plays Eliza Doolittle, has stronger words about Higgins.

“He’s a sexist pig,” she said. “He’s my least favorite character.”

The 27-member cast of “My Fair Lady” will perform the musical March 2, 3 and 4 in the theater at the St. Paul Convocation Center. The first two performances are at 7 p.m. and third is scheduled for 2:30.

“It’s a classic. We like classic shows here. It has strong songs and we have very strong singers,” said Theresa Barcus, who is directing her third musical at St. Paul.

Barcus said this production of “My Fair Lady” is timely because it’s being revived on Broadway.

St. Paul rehearsals started in early January. There are 13 crew members.

The choreographer is Tami Clark. The music director is her husband, Chris, who also is in charge of the 16-member orchestra, which consists of students and parents.

“We have a few helpers from Norwalk High School, too,” Barcus said.

To play Doolittle, Bryant said she has to embrace her naturally sassy personality.

“My Fair Lady” has required the actors and singers to use British accents.

To say “oh” as Doolittle does, it comes out as “ow” because of her Cockney dialect. Bryant has to use what she calls “dying duck sounds” to get it right.

“I’ve always known how to do a British accent because I’ve been a Harry Potter fan from since I was little,” said the daughter of Troy and Rachael.

Bryant has been in the last two St. Paul musicials, “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” and “West Side Story.” She also performed in two productions with Curtain Call Children’s Theatre. Bryant said those experiences have helped boost her confidence.

“I know everybody out there and they are supporting me,” she added.

To play Higgins, Kowalski said he’s had to push the envelope, making comments that offend people and forcing Doolittle to “do all these absurd things to learn phonetics.”

“He’s pushing the limitations of what people are actually doing,” added the son of John and Sue.

Attempting to keep some sense of decorum between Higgins and Doolittle is Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper, played by senior Ally Brown.

“She’s Mr. Higgins’ right-hand woman. She’s also Eliza’s friend in the household,” said Brown, the daughter of Chris and Vicki.

The way Brown sees it, Mrs. Pearce makes sure she’s on top of everything that happens in the house and attempts to keep Higgins in check by telling him when he’s being mean — all while also bringing out “the human side of Mr. Higgins.”

Last year in “West Side Story,” Brown played a much more volatile character, Maria’s sister-in-law. The senior said Mrs. Pearce is supposed to have a calming presence in “My Fair Lady,” which is good since she’s admittedly “the mom to my friend group” at St. Paul, but she’s noticed that “Anita can come out at times” during rehearsals.

Brown started snapping — something Anita was known for in “West Side Story” — to get Higgins’ servants to do something. But she was told that wasn’t appropriate for Mrs. Pearce.

“I have to go more time period (by) clapping,” Brown said.

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