The Lincoln Center Theater Production of Lerner & Loewe’s MY FAIR LADY has arrived at the Providence Performing Arts Center. Nominated for six Tony Awards in 2018, PPAC’s latest Broadway hit is running through Sunday, May 15.
Earlier this week, we spoke to two of the show’s stars, Shereen Ahmed, who plays Eliza Doolittle, and East Providence native Kevin Pariseau, who plays Colonel Pickering. Both were thrilled to be in Providence with the Tony Award-winning production.
The company actually began touring in December of 2019 but paused in March of 2020 due to the pandemic. After an extended delay, they resumed performances in September 2021 and now have dates running through this August. No doubt, they’re glad to be back to work.
Playing the role of Eliza Doolittle is “a dream come true,” Ahmed said. “Eliza’s been part of my life since I was a little girl, I remember watching Audrey Hepburn in (the film version of) My Fair Lady. Eliza is a powerful woman in a time when women didn’t have much power. I look at her character as a teacher. She had a real determination to change her life despite the obstacles in front of her.”
Ahmed summarized the plot, which centers around her character.
“She is a Cockney flower girl, she meets a phonetics professor and sets out on this journey to change her speech in order to create more opportunities for herself. With that comes a lot of challenges that I don’t think she recognized before she set out. I come across Colonel Pickering (Pariseau) who is just a laugh the whole show. He becomes kind of like a father figure to her, the three of us set out on this journey together to discover what the power of speech can really do for a woman in particular.”
Ahmed, who identifies as Arab – American, recognizes the position she occupies as a role model for aspiring actors.
“It’s easy to be in ‘Aladdin,'” she explained. “But to be in a period piece like MY FAIR LADY, where your race, your ethnicity, your religion does not inform your character, to play Eliza Doolittle who was an English girl, it feels freeing in that way. I hope we are on the path to seeing more of that.”
Meanwhile, Pariseau, a stage and screen veteran, is excited to return home for the PPAC shows.
“It’s great to come back. My high school drama coach coming to the show, and my mother is coming to the show. I think my mother has enlisted so many people to come to the show that I’ve paid my own salary this week,” he joked.
“The story is classic and the music is beautiful. This production was nominated for six Tonys and won the Tony for ‘Best Costume Design,’ the costumes are spectacular,” said Pariseau. “According to the costume department, there are 136 hats in 94 wigs that we use in the show.”
I asked him what advice he had for aspiring actors.
“I don’t think I knew in high school that I was going to pursue this professionally, I thought it was going to be as it was then, a completely joyful experience to do with my friends and have a grand time doing it. It was only after going to college and thinking about wrapping my head doing it as a career that I ended up pursuing it,” he said.
“There’s so much more knowledge about the industry now and kids are so deeply tapped into theater in a way…. The Internet has done such an amazing job of opening kids’ eyes up to what these experiences are and what they can do. I applaud anybody if they know they want to pursue it in high school. If I had known then what I know now, I would have certainly been more aggressively pursuing it as opposed to just a thing that I did with my pals.”