Thomas Jefferson HS to perform 'My Fair Lady'
The Thomas Jefferson High School stage will come to life one final time, as students head back to the past to celebrate the classics with the musical production of “My Fair Lady.”
After several years of performing modern, Disney fairy tale shows, musical director Sandra Barker said she wanted to introduce students to a classic tale, with songs and characters many of them had never heard of before.
For the 79-member cast, the classic show is fitting, as they step onto the stage at 310 Old Clairton Road one final time, before a new Thomas Jefferson High School opens down the road for the 2018-19 school year.
“I feel like it's only proper that we send off this building with a classic,” said Madeline Sonnett, 18, a senior, who plays Eliza Doolittle.
TJ Theater will perform “My Fair Lady” March 15 to 17.
The show follows Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, who strives to become a lady by taking lessons from Professor Henry Higgins.
The show, initially performed on Broadway in 1956, has “music that's fun,” that the high school aged students at Thomas Jefferson didn't know until they started rehearsing, Barker said. Now, she hears them singing the tunes in the hallways.
“They've grown to love it,” said Barker, who has directed Thomas Jefferson musicals for 23 years. “When we do ‘Get Me to the Church on Time,' the rafters just ring.”
The show features mostly freshmen and sophomores, and ushers in a new class of TJ Theater that Barker said she hopes will carry over to the new high school.
“For our last performance here, it's not going to be old hat,” she said. “Everything is going to be new and fresh for the audience.”
The cast this year has an excitement that will carry over to the audience during the show, Barker said.
For Sean Graves, 18, who plays Professor Henry Higgins, the show has extra meaning.
While most of his classmates knew nothing about “My Fair Lady” prior to rehearsals, for him it was an old staple.
His grandfather sang “Get Me to the Church On Time” at every family wedding and he often watched his mom's face as Professor Higgins sang on the TV in their family home.
Graves warns that his character can be a “sexist, misogynist,” as the show was not adapted from its early 1900s setting.
But there's a lesson in Professor Higgins: “He changes throughout the show and he's grown to care for this woman that he took in,” Graves said. “I feel like it just shows that anybody can change. Love is a very powerful force. It's a classic love story,” he said.
Graves said he can't wait to perform the songs on stage for his mom to catch her reaction, as she often “rolls her eyes like, ‘Yeah right, I'm the one who does all the work around here. It's not true,' ” when she hears them coming from the TV.
For the cast, getting the British accent right was a bit of a challenge.
Reid Campolong, 17, a senior, who plays Col. Hugh Pickering, laughed that it's been almost impossible.
Yet, Parker Rittiger, 18, a senior, who plays Mr. Alfred P. Doolittle, said the accents have come easier for him, as he likes to joke around and play with voices in real life.
A dialect coach was brought in to work with the cast on their accents.
As they prepare to wrap up TJ Theater in the old school, that comes with some pressure.
They want to show the program is alive and well, as they know alumni will be coming back to say farewell to their first stage, Campolong said.
What makes this show special are the people in it — the cast, crew and director and everyone else who has had a hand in it, Rittiger said.
“It's honestly different from anything we've done,” he said. “It's for the older community. It will hopefully bring back some memories.”
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.