Riordon, as maid, is spotless in Athol High’s ‘My Fair Lady’ 

  • Above, Maren Riordon, center, as housekeeper Mrs. Peace, keeps mindful watch, while bedraggled Eliza, left, played by Isabella McDonald, fields questions from Colonel Pickering, played by Aidan Needle, right, in the Athol High School’s opening night performance of “My Fair Lady.” Below, Anthony Marcucci, as Professor Henry Higgins, engages Eliza Doolittle, played by Isabella McDonald, in an elocution exercise. ANN REED

  • Anthony Marcucci, as Professor Henry Higgins, engages Eliza Doolittle, played by Isabella McDonald, in an elocution exercise in the Athol High School's opening night performance of My Fair Lady. —ANN REED 

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 4/7/2019 9:50:03 PM

ATHOL — The maid did it. That is, Maren Riordon, in the supporting role of housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, gave the standout performance in Athol High School’s production of “My Fair Lady” on opening night Friday. And I don’t just mean she was great “for a kid.”

The teenaged actress maintained impeccable possession of her character, never lacking relevance by her presence, proving performer’s sensibilities that shone above the maturity level of a production that otherwise suffered growing pains.

Unfortunately, Riordon didn’t get a chance to receive her rightful applause, due to a curtain call gone awry after a procedural glitch … culminating in castmate tomfoolery that seemed to say, “Hey folks, our dog ate our homework, but at least we showed up.”

As rightly played with composure yet sympathy, Mrs. Pearce serves as all-purpose plot glue in scenes played out among main characters in Professor Henry Higgins’ study. And the school production could, in general, have used a few glops of non-toxic fixative - and, once that dried, a coat of polish.

But first-time directors, teachers Aric Davis and musical conductor Brian Hicks, had, in the throes of latter day rehearsals, frankly acknowledged that they, and their charges, had taken on a manifold challenge in the Edwardian period musical that opened on Broadway in 1956. And it does a heart good to know that this new generation of educators and kids would even care to reach back for the yester-generation Lerner & Loewe classic.

Despite flaws, the show — all two and a half hours of it — indeed went on. And that, in itself, represented untold hours of work. And, in addition to Riordon’s fine performance, the cast flickered with talent that begged future onstage opportunities.

Nevertheless, Riordon is worthy of further note for her clarity of speech and wise use of tone, while others too often rapidly mumbled, murmured, shouted to excess or failed to achieve sonic symbiosis with their attached microphones. Let’s remember, the comical disparity between rough dialect and high British English is supposed to drive the very storyline about a pompous elocutionist’s project to lift a hardscrabble-bred Cockney to a state of aristocratic presentability.

But this is 2019 America. And today’s highschoolers were born in roughly the same year television’s Katie Couric — paid millions to talk — pronounced “Christians” as “krish-ens” in on air coverage of Pope John Paul II’s funeral. The second, and ratifying, time I heard the trend-signaling bastardization trip off her tongue that day, I knew that America’s linguistic free-fall had gained momentum.

Therefore, I was not shocked when one of Friday night’s young players — lending momentary irony to his role — got away with pronouncing “street” as “shtreet” and strife, shtrife. But I was surprised that the student actors were permitted to be seen, goofing around at that, onstage and in costume moments before curtain time and later mingling among theatergoers in the lobby during intermission in breaches of performers’ etiquette.

A presumed soft-school approach to theatrical discipline may have weakened the project’s ability to present a more finished product. There were flubbed lines and a few instances of invented melodies sung in inexplicable keys over the pit band’s instrumentaliziation of the showtunes. … songs known well by many of us in the small audience — including a few regional theatre bigwigs noticeably present.

If anyone can get a soloist out of a jam, it is veteran accompanist Janet Paoletti — if only, on this night, she had been set up with a concert piano. (This observer was surprised to notice that, instead, a little electronic keyboard of sorts had been wheeled out to her, reminding one, in its tinny weakness, of the toy kind that sniffling toddlers bang on in doctor’s office waiting rooms.) Meanwhile, poor conductor Hicks could be seen vigorously waving his baton in one direction for his prancing wind instruments while rubbernecking in another toward the stage to mouth out remedial cues.

Pit players included Elaine Guertin, Al Benjamin, Dick Tandy, Fred Bulman, Marissa Roberts, Dennis Robinson and Gracie Rosenberg.

Perhaps the hardest-working actress onstage that night — given the volume of lines and music alone — Isabella McDonald, as Eliza Doolittle, was placed at a disadvantage by blocking that often forced her head to turn upstage, and a hairstyle that tended to obscure one eye.

And what was supposed to have served as Eliza’s pivotal, and ghastly, first recitation of her vowels — Eye-Ay-Oy-Ow-Yow — instead stayed mainly on the plain of American pronunciation. Nevertheless, McDonald’s energy, earnestness, palpable sense of responsibility and her ability to land prettily on the highest singing notes assure future casting.

Swaggering leading man Anthony Marcucci, playing Higgins, crooned his show tunes with rightful confidence in his effortless baritone. In fact, Marcucci seemed to deliver everything with confidence — including a center stage verbal direction to a tardy techie to “black out, black out” at a scene’s end. And, at one point — in an arguably good save — he broke the fourth wall in a pair of cool asides to the crowd:

“Sorry, I have big hands” [audience laughter] “Any second now” [audience laughter] Marcucci improvised as he bought needed seconds to undo the stubborn clasp of the bejeweled necklace McDonald had been unable to undo on cue without rescue.

Aidan Needle portrayed Colonel Pickering with an apropos retiring air. Amanda Holden, in the dual roles of Mrs. Higgins and Mrs. Hopkins, exhibited a knack for nuance rather than noise, imbuing her characters with both humor and matronly credibility. Connor Arpide brought a smile with his droll serpentine charms as scoundrel Alred P. Doolittle. Logan Wornham supplied a mild-mannered presence as Freddy. A serene Kayden Mousseau appeared as needed as the queen. The cast was rounded out by chorus faithfuls Carter Cochran, Sadie Anderson, Anna-Rose Brewer, Kaleb Her, Ryan Young, Michael Harris, Justin Vazquez, Breanna O’Donnell, Margret Holland, Chris Waslaske and Rachel Mehigan.

A tip of the plumed hat goes to Sharon Euvrard for excellent costuming. And praise goes to Set Director Christine Folmsbee for set design, especially the arty and original representation of Higgins’ study featuring an almost surreal railing-less black balustrade of newels atop a colorful, minimalist set of unapologetically one-dimensional paint strokes of shelved books, an array of curvaceous velvet seating and steampunk-esque office fixtures. Credit goes to Laura Robinson, who directed lighting and sound, and to Keely Leeman, who managed crew, that included: Jenavieve Bailey, Carter Cochran, Margret Holland, Rachel Mehigan, Kassidy Pond, Ryley Pond and Danielle Swan.

Finally, compliments to any and all who had the good sense to avoid powdering young heads of hair and heavily making up faces. … faces that, incidentally, an audience would be pleased to see again in that very special place of learning known as school theatre.

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