Eliza Doolittle, portrayed by Ashley Carlson gets some encouragement from Professor Henry Higgins, performed by Joseph Paur during a rehearsal of the
Eliza Doolittle, portrayed by Ashley Carlson gets some encouragement from Professor Henry Higgins, performed by Joseph Paur during a rehearsal of the Egyptian Theatre's "My Fair Lady." (Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Theatre)
Legend has it when "My Fair Lady" premiered on Broadway in 1956, Rex Harrison, who portrayed Professor Henry Higgins, locked himself in his dressing room because he was terrified of singing with a live orchestra.

He eventually did go on stage to critical acclaim and reprised the role for London's West End and in the 1964 film adaptation, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Utah actor Joseph Paur will don the professor of phonetics hat in the Egyptian Theatre production of "My Fair Lady" that will open on Friday, March 14. And director Amber Hansen is thrilled.

"Joe is a fixture in the theater community and has a lot of experience under his belt," Hansen said during an interview with The Park Record. "He has also done some film, so we are very lucky to have him in our cast."

Actress Ashley Carlson will turn up her cockney accent as Higgins' project Eliza Doolittle, a woman he helps emerge from the gutters of London to becoming the talk of high society.

"Ashley is a professional actress who performs all over the country and is busy with one production or another," Hansen said. "We were really lucky to get her and she just shines as Eliza. It's a dream role for her and she considered doing our production because we have a good reputation as being a good place for actors to work."

"My Fair Lady," featuring a script by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, is based on the Bernard Shaw book "Pygmalion," and also holds a special place in Hansen's heart.

"It was the first musical I ever performed in when I was 12 years old," she said. "I was just in a couple of scenes, but it spawned my love for musical theater and set the course for my destiny, I suppose."

The idea for the Egyptian Theatre to present "My Fair Lady" came from two sources, Hansen explained.

"We presented 'Evita' last summer and after it opened to critical acclaim, the Egyptian Theatre manager Randy Barton and the Board of Directors decided to present another big show during the early spring," she said. "It's peak season and there are a lot of families in town on ski vacations, so they wanted to present a big production as something families could do at night."

Also, one of the Egyptian Theatre's Pharaoh Club members is Lee D. Marshall, the CEO for MagicSpace Entertainment, a company that presents Broadway Across America's Utah performances.

"He was a Broadway producer a long time ago in New York," Hansen said. "A while ago, he sent us a list of 20 musicals that he felt we should do at some point. And 'My Fair Lady' was on the list.

"The musical fits because we wanted to do a family-friendly musical with an all-adult cast," she said. "It has such a witty script. There are so many memorable songs, and I actually feel that this show has one of the best scores of any musical. It's often referred to by others, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, as being the greatest musical ever written."

Even before the musical was selected for production, Hansen had a good idea of what she wanted.

"I really love the film and incorporated a lot of aspects of the film into the production," she said. "I also wanted it to be a traditional musical that stayed true to the original time and place — London, 1912."

That meant the musical would have feature costumes and set designs from that era.

"We have Isaac and Jen Taylor who are designing the sets," Hansen said. "But we're using minimal set pieces that are colored and textured with props."

A theatrical projection design will serve as the main set pieces.

"We will project images and animations on different screens, layer and panels that will give a sense of place on stage," Hansen said. "We'll start off with black and white and sepia tones that will become more colorful as Eliza rises from the gutter to become a lady in high society. It's cutting edge and state-of-the-art."

One of the most challenging scenes to direct and present is the Ascot Gavotte, when Higgins and Doolittle go to the horse races, Hansen said.

"There are 18 people in the scene at the same time,' she explained. "Their gestures are almost mechanical because everyone is so snooty, uppity and precise in their movements."

Hansen's favorite scenes are those that feature Doolittle.

"Her character has such a natural way of expressing the emotions of the songs," Hansen said. "Eliza has such a wit about her and is very funny. She just melts your heart."

The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present a live production of "My Fair Lady" on March 16, 19-22 and 26-30. Curtain for performances on Wednesday through Saturday is 7:30 p.m. Sunday performances begin at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $65 and can be purchased by visiting www.parkcityshows.com.