Eliza’s challenge

2009-12-17 00:00

GINA Shmukler and Lisa Bobbert, who share the role of Eliza Doolittle in The Playhouse Company’s staging of My Fair Lady, believe that it’s only when you do a classic musical that you realise how beautifully written they are.

Asked why they thought Eliza was such a great role for a musical actress, the two actresses said it offered an ­interesting vocal challenge.

“I think older musicals are interesting from a vocal point of view,” Shmukler said. “When I was in New York working with my (vocal) teacher before doing Showboat, she said that writers back then wrote for specific voice types, whereas when you do something like Chess there is no ­regard for voice types and you have to sing across vocal ranges and voice styles.”

Bobbert, who has wanted to play the role of Eliza, since seeing Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 film version, agreed, adding: “Eliza is a challenging role. The writing is by a master, it’s funny, and vocally it’s challenging because you do a wide range of styles — from talking songs to singing top G. I have definitely found it a challenge vocally. I’m not a soprano, so I had to stretch myself.”

As for their favourite songs from the show — which can be seen until December 30 in the Playhouse Opera Theatre — Shmukler said: “I love I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face, but I don’t sing that — Ralph [Lawson, who plays Henry Higgins] does. There’s a whole play in that song. I probably enjoy doing Without You the most. It’s Eliza’s triumphant moment, when she realises that she can do without Higgins.”

Bobbert on the other hand loves performing Wouldn’t It Be Luverly. “I love interacting with all the guys on stage. It’s the only big number that we’re in ... We don’t feature in the others like Get Me To The Church On Time and With a Little Bit Of Luck,” she added.

Both women have found pros and cons to sharing the role. While they appreciate being able to rest their voices between shows, they have found it harder to establish a rhythm. “Personally, I find it quite difficult to get into a role when you’re sharing. Every night you feel nervous,” Shumkler said. “But I have to say that ­because I came to rehearsals late I wouldn’t have been able to learn the role without Lisa.”

Asked what roles they would still love to play, Bobbert immediately picked Sally in Cabaret, while Shmukler opted for Fonteine in Les Miserables and Trina in Falsettos in musical theatre and the title role in Saint Joan, a play by George Bernard Shaw, based on the life and trial of Joan of Arc.

Looking ahead to 2010, Bobbert has booked the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre to do Shirley Valentine next year, while Shmukler will be returning to teach at Wits University in the New Year before taking on the role of Donna in Mamma Mia at Artscape in Cape Town in August and The Teatro at Montecasino in October.

As for why people should make a point of seeing My Fair Lady, Bobbert said: “Seeing a musical like this is the experience of a lifetime. I remember going to His Majesty’s Theatre and seeing Brickhill-Burke productions when I was young and they made me what I am today.”

Shmukler agreed, adding: “In Jo’burg we don’t have the privilege of performing with a 40-piece orchestra. We’re usually up there with a ­ten-piece band and track. It’s such a luxury … and the ticket prices are amazing.”

• My Fair Lady is at The Playhouse Opera Theatre in Durban until December 30. Tickets range from R80 to R130 and can be booked at Computicket.

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