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Saturday, October 01, 1994     Page: 2A QUICK WORDS: REVIEW

Times Leader Assistant Features Editor
    Eliza Doolittle, that spunky street urchin on the cusp of ladyhood, curls up on a Victorian sofa. Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper, covers her with a pink blanket and exits.
    "Awww," breathes a spectator.
    It's Friday night at the Kirby Center. The house is almost full. The show is "My Fair Lady." Leenya Rideout, as Eliza, is alone on the stage.
    Now that the character is no longer such a complete guttersnipe, now that she can pronounce a letter "H" sound at the beginning of words and utter her famous sentence about Spain's rainy plains, suddenly she seems more vulnerable than ever.
    And she's won over her audience, making them coo, sigh and chuckle in sympathy as she finds it hard to sleep.
    In one of the most appealing moments of Friday's performance, Rideout sings "I Could've Danced All Night" in a soaring voice that hovers somewhere between birdlike and angelic.
    Her winning performance follows the most interesting action in the first half of the Lerner and Loewe musical. Professor Henry Higgins (Gary Kimble) and Colonel Pickering (Richard Springle) have been sharing Eliza's exhaustion as the professor tries to make her speak with marbles in her mouth and books on her head.
    Doggedly, they persist.
    Then, sharing her eventual triumph, the trio prances and sings. They imitate a matador and bull. Rideout sings with operatic vigor and elegant sophistication as the transformed Eliza. Enough of the Cockney-accented tunes of the pre-metamorphosis flower girl; this is the voice that comes to her naturally.
    Another favorite with the audience was Scott Davidson as Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle. He played a delightful, rascally scamp with patches on his knees, a song in his heart and ground-in dirt on his face.
    The actor gives the impression he thoroughly enjoys his role, as he links arms with two cronies and dances a high-stepping chorus line to accompany "With a Little bit of Luck." Later, he sails into their waiting arms as gracefully as a ballerina.
    As Higgins, Kimble was convincingly aloof, disdainful and perhaps a bit misogynistic before gradually warming to his protege.
    The costumes added an eloquent touch to the play. Tattered scarves, aprons, and peekaboo bloomers marked the poor. Feathers in their straw hats tended to droop.
    Spats, parasols and above-the-elbow gloves marked the rich. Feathers in their elaborate hats tended to stay aloft.
    The action took place against a backdrop of over-sized houses, columns and archways that sometimes dwarfed the players but provided an airy atmosphere of a pleasant, uncrowded London.
    "My Fair Lady" was the first presentation in the Kirby Center's 1994/95 Broadway Series. Future offerings include "Camelot" at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and "South Pacific" at 8 p.m. April 4.
    Individual tickets are on sale for $29.50, $25.50 and $17.50.
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