By Ahava Ehrenpreis
“Anticipation is greater than realization,” goes the old saying. What a delightful surprise when just the opposite is the case! Such was the situation on a recent motzaei Shabbos when the curtain rose at a theater in Brooklyn. Suddenly my fellow theatergoers and I were in Covent Garden, outside the Royal Opera House in London, over a century ago. The eye was suffused with the colors of the baskets of flowers being offered for sale by the charming English flower girls chattering in their inimitable Cockney accents. A contrast of sound was in the air, from the Cockney speech of the “dustmen” enjoying their drinks at a quaint little English pub, to the upper-class English men and ladies, dressed in their evening garb, waiting impatiently for their drivers. To my delight, there were the charming familiar melodies and, indeed, there was Professor Higgins patronizingly reprimanding our dear little Liza Doolittle “for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.”
For the next several hours, I was lifted out of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach theater to the quaint and striking colors of a 1912 English flower market, and then on to the stately library of Professor Higgins, with his very “progressive” recording device called a gramophone, and the refined sitting room of Prof. Higgins’ very elegant English mother. The eye for detail in the setting and scenery was equally evident in the costumes that captured the charm of the English flower sellers, to those personifying the elegance of the English nobility, whether relaxing in. Higgins’ library or in full regalia at the Embassy Ball. The Ascot Races in black and white contrast was simply breathtaking.
Beyond the costumes and scenery that set the scene, this was a musical, and the music itself was no less “realization far beyond anticipation.” From the musical accompaniment to the choir ensembles, the charm of the original musical was retained with each musical number remaining true to the spirit of the original. Under gifted direction, the level of performance was totally professional, in all of its elements, with both its dramatic and choreographic elements a treat for the eye and the ear.
In truth, many a performance on the professional stage has either an “actor who cannot sing” or a “singer who cannot act.” At risk of being accused of over enthusiasm, I assure you that here I was completely astonished by the talents of these actresses, who had clearly thrown themselves and their natural talents into the ring with stunning results. Though not English-born (with the exception of two of the actresses), these volunteers rose to the occasion, and there was not an American nor Brooklyn accent evident in these outstanding performances. Far Rockaway resident Chayitty Pollack’s bravura performance in the lead role captured the complexities of the singular Cockney flower girl.
It had been several years since I attended a women’s production, and this entertaining and delightful evening proved a most welcome return. The storyline moved me, the extraordinary costumes and stage settings with their eye for detail and beauty were simply breathtaking. Stylish millinery, captivating stage sets with Broadway-style, clever transformations, and superb casting put this group’s show in a class by itself. Though none of the participants, whether on or off stage, were involved in theater on a professional level, this was not, I hasten to assure my readers, an “amateur” performance. Even if you have experienced theater on Broadway, which is, in fact, the way I generally prefer my theater, you are in for a delightful surprise. Though you may be quite disappointed to have missed it this year, do not despair, since this production is available both in DVD and CD. It is a delightful “kosher” yet novel gift for oneself or for anyone on your birthday or bas mitzvah list.
In addition, and of no less importance, all proceeds from both the performances and the sale of these items go to a very special cause. “Rachel’s Place,” situated in Brooklyn, is a unique institution established by a few women who saw a need for a shelter for Orthodox girls on their way back to mainstream life. This is a “home” to young women who, having been forced to leave their own homes through neglect, abuse, or conflict, are left with literally no place to go. This unique residential program quite literally saves the lives of teenage girls who have no alternative to their desperate situations but the street! How utterly appropriate that this production, “English to a T,” celebrates a life-changing experience for Eliza Doolittle. The support of Rachel’s Place makes you a part of the miracle of saving and rebuilding lives. Be a part of this wonderful and special place and enjoy the performance. See you next year! v