WESTMINSTER - The last verse of the original "September Song," the final musical number in "Knickerbocker Holiday," speaks of golden years and a vintage brew.
Carroll County's theater group September Song, at the ripe old age of 17, has achieved those qualities under the careful and caring direction of producer Arnie Hayes and director Michael Pressimone.
The large audience in attendance for the opening of Lerner and Loewe's highly popular "My Fair Lady" was treated to a brisk, secure and melodic performance.
This well-known story of the stuffy elocution teacher who turns a street urchin into a "princess" has been a favorite of audiences since it opened as a musical in 1956. Before that, it had enjoyed considerable popularity as George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," which first appeared in 1916.
Pressimone has finally conquered the problem of interminable scene changes with serviceable, if not beautiful, scenery that rolls in and out in almost no time at all. This ensures the fluidity of performance so often absent in multi-set productions and, happily, allows the audience to leave the theater well before 11 p.m., an unusual event with most musicals.
As designer as well as director, Pressimone has opted for mostly two-dimensional scenery against which to play his characters. And this is usually effective.
Strangely, though, he has placed most of the production on one side of the stage and uses the other side only in crowd scenes.
Other technical elements are supportive except for the use of the follow spot, which seems to survive only because of tradition. It serves no valid aesthetic purpose and is superfluous and intrusive.
This device was necessary in the early part of the century, when stage lighting provided insufficient illumination. Today it is only an artifact that should be retired.
Geyer's Theater Shop has outfitted some of the cast handsomely. The dressier scenes are beautiful and not that far from the originals of Cecil Beaton.
However, costumes for the lower classes are unacceptable. Women and men wear clothing of different time periods that appears to have come directly from the washer. Audiences cannot believe that people with filthy faces could possibly be clean below the neck.
The performances are delightful. Ruth Snow and Edith Burbage bring authority to their rolesroles as what?. The chorus is strong, mostly attentive and well integrated.
It is a treat to see the "old-timers," Betty Adie, Flo and Hugh Council, George Fringer and Jim Norris (there was a Jim Norris in the original production), as well as the many new and competent performers on the local stage.
One of the very special new faces belongs to Roger Buchanan, who appears as the father of Eliza Doolittle. Buchanan, a mountain of a man who moves with grace and style, would be welcome in any company. On opening night, the second of his two major numbers was less evocative and secure than the first. Even so, both were strong audience favorites and deservedly so.
Ann Barcroft and Myron Dutterer were wonderful in the central roles.
Barcroft's beautiful voice does great justice to the songs written for Eliza, and it is a pleasure to hear Henry Higgins' songs sung strongly and dramatically by Dutterer, instead of being spoken, as Rex Harrison performed them in the original musical and the movie.
The missing link in this otherwise strong chain was the presence of a believable affection between the two principals. If there is no real, identifiable love, there is no comfortable conclusion.
This is probably more the fault of the original playwright than of adapter Alan Lerner or director Pressimone. Bernard Shaw was never known for romantic scenes.
In this production, as well as others of this musical, the "I Could Have Danced All Night" number seems awkwardly placed. It really belongs after the dance at the embassy. If played as written, the "Rain in Spain" number must be vigorously choreographed in order to justify the lyrics.
This production marks the departure, temporary I hope, of Pressimone after four very laudable productions. September Song will surely miss him and can certainly be grateful for the legacy he leaves behind. His presence has, to a large extent, made it possible for the cover of this year's program to announce: "Our 17th year. Growing older, staying fresh and new."
"My Fair Lady" will run at 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Westminster High School auditorium. Proceeds benefit local social service organizations. Information: 876-1760.