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.” ••
For times and ticket information, call 215-654-0200.