Young actress builds resume with ‘My Fair Lady’

Eileen Cella, My Fair Lady


Based on Bern­ard Shaw’s Pyg­malion, My Fair Lady boasts wit, wis­dom and un­for­get­table songs, such as Wouldn’t It Be Lov­erly? Get Me to the Church on Time, and I Could Have Danced All Night.

Ori­gin­ally pro­duced on Broad­way in 1956, and earn­ing nine Tony Awards, it en­joyed three sub­sequent Broad­way re­viv­als and an ac­claimed movie ver­sion star­ring Rex Har­ris­on and Audrey Hep­burn.

And now this lush and clas­sic mu­sic­al, star­ring Tony Braith­waite as Hig­gins and Eileen Cella as Eliza, comes alive on the stage at Act II Play­house through June 3.

Braith­waite, who will be­come head of the theat­er on Ju­ly 1, has ap­peared in many of Act II’s most pop­u­lar and ac­claimed pro­duc­tions. But for 22-year-old Cella, who cred­its Braith­waite as a friend, ment­or and the per­son most re­spons­ible for her love of theat­er, this is her Act II de­but.

Cella marveled at Braith­waite when he dir­ec­ted her in a show at St. Joe’s Prep. An all-boys school, St. Joe of­ten used stu­dents from the Ag­nes Ir­win School — where Cella was a stu­dent — to fill some of the fe­male roles in shows they pro­duced.

“I re­mem­ber I was fif­teen and did my first show with Tony,” Cella re­membered. “I played Sug­ar in a show they called Sug­ar, changed from Some Like It Hot. Here I was, this tiny Medi­ter­ranean girl not look­ing any­thing like Mar­ilyn Mon­roe who was the ori­gin­al Sug­ar. I came just look­ing for a spot in the chor­us. I just wanted to get in­volved and wound up with the lead. I was thrilled.”

Today, Cella, a gradu­ate of the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania with a de­gree in cog­nit­ive sci­ence with a con­cen­tra­tion in neur­os­cience, is still thrilled with the act­ing pro­fes­sion.

“And I really be­lieve both act­ing and neur­os­cience are very much alike. Just two sides of the same coin,” Cella said. “In neur­os­cience you are ex­plor­ing people and what mo­tiv­ates them. In the theat­er you are ex­plor­ing them as you play them. So I do think they are re­lated.”

Over the years, Cella has proved her skills in theat­er by ap­pear­ing in sev­er­al shows, in­clud­ing The Little Prince off-Broad­way, Ca­rou­sel at Plays and Play­ers, and First Day of School at 1812 Pro­duc­tions.

Hav­ing seen My Fair Lady when she was a little girl, Cella knows she looks noth­ing like Audrey Hep­burn.

“I saw the movie a long time ago, so I knew the ba­sic plot, but I’m so dif­fer­ent from Audrey Hep­burn,” she said. “She had a very fra­gile qual­ity that she brought to the role of Eliza, and not the way we are choos­ing to play her.”

In fact, she con­tin­ued, Bud Mar­tin, Act II’s pro­du­cing artist­ic dir­ect­or, de­cided to make Eliza more feisty, to make her a strong wo­man able to trans­form her­self from a flower girl in­to a lady.

And Cella said she’s en­joy­ing every minute of the show as well as her in­volve­ment with show busi­ness in gen­er­al.

“What draws me to it is the love and fas­cin­a­tion I feel to­ward people,” she said. “I’m amazed at the stor­ies I hear about the acts of kind­ness and the ter­rible acts of people. I am fas­cin­ated by the whole spec­trum of how people con­duct them­selves, and that’s what theat­er ex­plores — from mod­ern fam­ily dy­nam­ics to his­tor­ic­al fig­ures. I think that’s what I en­joy most.”

Cella hopes her fu­ture just con­tin­ues the way it seems to be go­ing.

“Ideally, in a per­fect world, five years from now, I hope I’m still do­ing great work in a great theat­er city,” she said. “I just want to con­tin­ue do­ing things that I find ful­filling.” ••

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