Cockney accents are echoing through Walla Walla University's Village Hall this week in preparation for opening night of the spring production of "My Fair Lady" Saturday.
This charming, family-friendly play tells the tale of Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl living on the streets of London. As the result of a bet, Professor Henry Higgins, an intelligent gentleman with very proper speech, begins teaching Eliza how to speak correctly. The results of his lessons will be showcased in six months when he presents her at the Embassy Ball.
In celebration of wwudrama's 50th anniversary, David Crawford, drama professor and director, wanted to do something special. This performance will showcase the talent of current students and honor past students and faculty for their work in developing the program. As part of the celebration of this landmark year, nearly all of the former directors of the program will visit for the show and a reunion.
"We decided to kind of shoot for the moon with the 50th anniversary," Crawford said. "We'll get to show [alumni] something big and what they've accomplished by working on this program over the years."
Though wwudrama does at least three shows each academic year, a musical is a new stretch. It has been almost seven years since the last musical.
"I thought it was time to get music back on the stage again here, because we have so much music talent," Crawford said.
Partly because it is a musical and partly because it is such a popular show, auditions were full. The role of Eliza Doolittle was filled in December, and the rest of the cast was chosen in January, shortly before rehearsals started.
Courtney Crook will play Eliza. She said she is ecstatic about the opportunity. Crook is a junior at WWU studying social work and music.
"It's always been my dream to star in a musical," Crook said. "Besides it being fun, I think the really cool thing about playing Eliza is at the beginning her emotions are just out there, no matter what she is feeling. She changes drastically throughout the show. She becomes a lady. It is really fun as an actress to act all the different parts of her transformation."
Crawford and Crook agree about one of the best parts of the show: the accents. Part of Eliza's transformation into a lady is to speak properly. She must learn to leave the Cockney accent behind and develop a British accent to be considered a lady.
"I love accents," Crawford said.
And his students are well aware. Crawford jumps at the opportunity to practice accents and share the fun in his classes and in productions when he is involved. "My Fair Lady" has a bit of a learning curve for the actors in the way of accents, but he believes they are catching on quickly.
"We've got really great performers," he said.
In addition to the big accents, this show deserves a big set and big costumes. The crew has been hard at work developing a custom-made wardrobe for Eliza and a transformable set to allow for many scene changes.
"We've totally changed Village Hall," Crawford said. "We're trying to create something that is visually stunning as well as a great story."
The final piece to this anniversary production is the music. A live orchestra will accompany the vocals throughout the show. Jeremy Irland is the musical director of the show and an adjunct music professor at WWU.
"One of the reasons I like this show is that the music and the story are intertwined in such a way that it is almost impossible to tell where one element ends and another begins," Irland said.
During his years at WWU, Irland participated in drama, as well, and remembers his involvement in a musical production as one of his favorite memories from college.
"This production is special for me, because I know that I'm helping to facilitate experiences for others that I once had the opportunity to be a part of," Irland said.
A number of community members along with WWU students will help create the live orchestra for the show.
The show also stars Alexander Scott as Henry Higgins, Ian Field as Colonel Pickering, Shane Wood as Alfred P. Doolittle, Michael Bradley-Robbins as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Jennifer Landaverde as Mrs. Pearce and Darcy Sturges as Mrs. Higgins.