RACHEL TAKES THE CAKE
Two weeks to go until opening night of My Fair Lady and so much to do. Or....... you could look at it the other way and say, look how much had been done already and we still have two weeks to go! The costumes were ready, for one thing. Almost everyone had been given what to wear, which is saying a lot, all things considered. Usually, Robert Binder can open the dozens of boxes of costumes used in previous productions scattered around our rehearsal space and pull out enough uniforms, ladies' aprons and bonnets, even apparel for several generations of baronets, to suit everyone on stage.
My Fair Lady, however, presents its own sartorial challenges. For example, as the curtain goes up on scene 1, your humble writer is seen for all of twenty seconds leaving the Opera House and racing across the stage holding an umbrella to escape the rain. What would the well-dressed English gentleman of the period wear to the theater of an evening? White tie and tails, of course (think Fred Astaire in Top Hat)! In other words, a black swallow-tail coat and matching trousers with a shiny stripe down the side, a formal dress shirt, a bow tie, a vest, and gloves -- all white of course. The piece de resistance was the top hat, which had started out in life a vivid blue in the ballet in Carousel, and which had been spray-painted black for its new lease on life. The Covent Garden scenes, in which I portray a common workman, wasn't so difficult: an old pair of gray cotton pants and a nondescript shirt of the same color from my own closet, with an ill-fitting jacket and vest, plus a gray cap several sizes too small -- all from the Encore! stash.
But the attire for Ascot. That's a whole new kettle of fish! The men were to wear a short black formal jacket with dark pants (I had the latter that with a little taking out at the waist just about fit me), a white dress shirt (the same one I wore in the first scene), vests that RB sewed together from scraps of material, a cravat that velcro'ed in the back, "spats," gray gloves, and........a real derby hat. We walked about with fake opera glasses (that Sandy fashioned out of the cardboard from paper towel rolls) and walking sticks that had been diverted from their original usage as broom handles. Much of what we were wearing had been borrowed from individuals and other theater groups (Try finding formal attire in The Land!!!). But the Ascot outfits for the women, that was a whole 'nother ball of wax. Given the multitude of shapes and sizes of our distaff members, there was nothing for RB to do but to design and sew them himself -- faithfully recreating the original Cecil Beaton costumes, which are justly celebrated. Then there was the final touch, the Ascot hats. Not the little things that women go to shul in. We're talking here about grand chapeaus to dazzle and delight at Ascot opening day. Where could Encore! find such a collection? Who anywhere could replicate the fantastic creations worn in the film version? Rachel to the rescue! Rachel Miskin, a mainstay of the troupe, one of those supremely affable people who make the world a joy to live in, goes about life baking things. Not rugalach or baguettes mind you, but cakes. Not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill cakes that any bakery can turn out for Shabbat or your little darling's eighth birthday, but one-of-a-kind creations for those once in a lifetime occasions at which you break out that special bottle of something you've been saving for ten years. If she can bake the cake to end all cakes, would Rachel be able to create a series of of equally opulent hats to catch the attention of every duke, and earl, and peer who might be there? Her creations did in fact take the cake, dazzling the audience, providing the final touch to a show-stopping scene, the proverbial "icing on the cake," that would leave the audience agasp.
With two weeks to go, the scenery was also done. Roxane had started work on the big backdrop of London well before auditions were even held. With her trusty crew of volunteers, the Ascot backdrop, the interior of Prof. Higgin's study with its trompe l'oeil bookcases, the street where Eliza lives and Freddie waits for her, the tavern from which Alfred P. Doolittle is first unceremoniously evicted and then welcomed back with open arms, all of these came into existence as if by magic and on time. We thought we could wash our paint brushes for good. But no! At the last minute, there were props that had to be dealt with: those broom handles which needed to be transmogrified into walking sticks, ordinary food cartons which for a brief moment would be passed from chorus member to chorus member as flower baskets in Covent Gardens. And so, the last Friday before Shavuot, we had to reassemble one more time and carefully smear more paint. Whew! Done at last.
But what about the show itself? The lines that had not yet been learned, the cues that were still being missed, the vocalizing which was still spotty in places, the choreography that had not been learned. (Arlene, realizing her time constraints, made no effort to create her usual magic for the male choristers, leaving us on our own to move about in time to the music.) PLUS.....Alfred P. Doolittle was still at the University of Maryland, teaching his classes in philosophy. How would he ever get to the pub, let alone the church on time? We all knew, from past experience, that everything would somehow come together; we just didn't know how.