FOR their 79th annual production Roscrea Musical Society staged a rousing production of Lerner & Loewe’s classic ‘My Fair Lady’ – raising the roof every night for wowed audiences all last week.
Roscrea Musical Society never disappoint and have earned a reputation for taking on very complex and modern shows in recent years, but for 2019 they reminded us that when it comes to tackling the old favourites that require a deft hand, they are unrivalled.
Last year’s stunning production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ was so memorable that people in the audience were still talking about it at this year’s production; and when the Tribune attended last Thursday night in a packed to capacity Abbey Hall, learned that many people are returning for repeat visits to this year’s show.
This is the Society’s third time to stage ‘My Fair Lady,’ the last time coming in 1994 and in 1973 before that. It is a comedy musical that is originally based on George Bernard Shaw’s story ‘Pygmalion’, and boasts a veritable roll-call of some of the most iconic songs in the genre.
The story centres on Eliza Doolittle, played by the remarkably talented Audrey O’Meara-Coakley, who is a girl who sells flowers on the streets and is trapped in poverty. But through the intervention of phoneticist Henry Higgins, played by Paul Spencer and who reprised the role after playing him in the 1994 production, receives elocution lessons that catapult her into high society.
The story is one resurrected in many comedies, and the trading places style of fish-out-of-water comedy leads several other hilarious characters onto the stage, most notably among them Eliza’s father, played by the inimitable Colin Williams, and Colonel Pickering, played by John Lynch.
All of the cast were outstanding, but Audrey O’Meara-Coakley’s note perfect performance as Eliza will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the finest ever to be performed by the Roscrea Musical Society.
Audrey, a former Offaly Rose and business woman from Birr, has been involved with several choral and dramatic groups and her experience in how to hold an audience in the palm of her hand while she delivers punchline after punchline, punctuated with huge musical numbers where her pitch-perfect singing is allowed shine, was visible in spades.
Eliza, the protagonist of the story, has some of the most difficult musical numbers and dance routines to perform, but Audrey executed them all flawlessly and despite being faced with challenges such as singing while lying down, or performing some very athletic dance moves while singing in a high-pitched cockney accent simultaneously, the standard of professionalism in her performance was unrivalled.
Audrey was awarded Best Actress at the 2011 AIMS Awards for her performance in ‘Oklahoma’ with Birr Stage Guild and she captivated audiences in Roscrea, where her performance of a character who evolves from a cockney rogue into an elegant lady drew peals of laughter and gasps of awe in equal measure in the Abbey Hall.
As would be expected from her fellow AIMS award winner, Paul Spencer, was outstanding in his portrayal this year of Henry Higgins – a character with reams of lines and some tricky solo musical numbers that require the skills of an expert to keep them flowing.
Paul as Henry Higgins, who first appeared on stage in the Abbey Hall in 1982 and won multiple awards since, worked perfectly alongside his companion John Lynch as Colonel Pickering, whose despicable bet to transform Eliza backfires when she ends up stealing Higgins’ heart.
Colin Williams performance as Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father, was truly stellar and few can breathe life into a character like Colin, whose expertise at delivering jokes and the rousing musical numbers had the audience lamenting his every exit from the stage.
Colin’s portrayal as Eliza’s nonchalant, but lightening quick and witty father, was one of the show’s highlights and his antics with partners in crime Jamie and Harry, played by Andrew Walsh and Conor Harte, were a favourite with audiences.
Tadhg Maher as Freddy, Siobhán Bowe as Mrs Higgins and Bríd Delaney as Mrs Pearse all brought the peripheral characters to life very well and performed excellently, while Director, Paul Norton and Choreographer, Julianne McNamara, succeeded in creating a comical world of grandeur, with complex dance routines often involving over 20 performers on stage at a time.
Niamh O’Donnell as Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, Tim Keane as Lord Boxington and Maeve Conlon as Mrs Hopkins added a rousing extra chorus and harmonies for several songs and the dance routines were a joy to watch unfold
As always, Mary Rose McNally’s band were stars – they are simply faultless and bring the songs to life inimitably, and when complemented by the talents of the Director and Choreographer, resulted in a slick and professional aesthetic from start to finish.
Roscrea Musical Society are very grateful to their sponsors, who make the tradition of live musical performances in the Abbey Hall possible and this year’s production, which cost over €40,000 to stage, was a testament to the ingenuity of set construction and stage crew teams.
The set changes were fast and efficient and the show featured sections where cast members performed in the centre aisle of the Hall, with one such performance seeing almost the entire cast dance their way out the front door.
The male and female chorus members were excellent and the entire cast, decked out in costumes from Pat McGann in Limerick, looked resplendent while they raised the roof of the Abbey Hall with some of the all time favourite numbers from the classic musical genre.
The event’s nightly sponsors were Bernie’s SuperValu, Roscrea Credit Union, Roscrea Lions Club, Joan Bourke and Roscrea Centre Pharmacy and Anne Louise and Victor Mitchell Auctioneers.
The production expenses sponsors for ‘My Fair Lady’ were Sherry Fitzgerald, Fogarty Bros, Carroll’s Filling Station, Biddy’s Bar, Beechfield Products, Dr. Pauline DeFeu, Coughlan Haulage, Edel Cahill and Mark Gleeson, Redmond’s Photography, Mount St. Joseph Abbey, Adare Transport, Brendan’s Bar, Doherty’s Hardware, Frank Murray and sons, Hogan Locksmiths, Stapleton’s Bakery, Councillor Michael Smith, AIB, Parkmore Convent Sisters, and Oliver Douglas and sons Hardware.