TARPON SPRINGS — If you're looking for the perfect antidote for the summer doldrums, well by George, I think we've got it.
My Fair Lady, the musical retelling of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, premieres tonight at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center. Presented by the Gilbert and Sullivan Players, the Tony Award-winning musical runs this weekend and next.
A cast of 40 will transport audiences to the streets of 1912 London, where a guttersnipe named Eliza Doolittle is hawking flowers.
Intrigued by her dialect, Professor Henry Higgins, an arrogant but lovable phoneticist, makes a wager with his friend Col. Pickering that he can transform the shabby flower girl into the likes of a duchess.
With that, the mad science begins.
Eighteen-year-old Jillian Rossi plays the role of Doolittle, a challenging part that requires a heavy cockney accent, cut-glass English and everything in between.
Theater devotees may remember Rossi, a recent graduate of Clearwater Central Catholic High, from her previous roles on the Tarpon stage including Luisa in The Fantasticks and Gianetta in The Gondoliers.
"I've been working very hard on my cockney accent," she said. "This is the hardest show I've ever been in. I have 130 pages of dialogue and when I'm not speaking, I'm singing. But as difficult as it is, I love it because it gives the audience a chance to see me as a versatile actress. It's my dream role."
And this is her dream year, she said. This fall, she's headed to the Boston Conservatory, where she received a scholarship and will major in musical theater.
Joe Conboy, 25, is Higgins.
In addition to his many leading roles on the local stage, Conboy has sung the national anthem numerous times at Tampa Bay Downs and for the Tampa Bay Rays. So unlike actor Rex Harrison, who in the 1964 Academy Award-winning movie "spoke" the lyrics in songs, Conboy actually sings his part as written by Loewe.
Constantine Grame is the musical director who plays piano during the three-hour production.
He said converting Shaw's play into a musical was no easy task for the creators — it didn't follow the conventional structure for a musical with a love story, subplot and ensemble.
"Rodgers and Hammerstein attempted it but ultimately decided it was impossible," Grame said.
Eventually it was written by Lerner and Loewe and with enduring songs like I Could Have Danced All Night, The Rain in Spain and Get Me to the Church on Time has become like a cool shower on a hot afternoon.
"It's a show people know and love," said Grame.
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