URBANA — With Eduardo Diazmunoz having dedicated the University of Illinois School of Music Opera Program season to the late Tom Schleis, it's no surprise it includes "My Fair Lady."
It was Mr. Schleis' favorite musical, and in the late 1950s was known as the "perfect musical" and "greatest and most successful musical of our times," Diazmunoz wrote for the program for the production, opening tonight at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
"You may hold memories of the original stage production with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison or the movie with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, as I certainly do," he wrote. "Chances are you've encountered one or more of its well-known songs at some point in time."
Diazmunoz himself was so enamored of the music in "My Fair Lady" that for many years he conducted Frederick Loewe's concert setting of it, called "My Fair Lady: A Symphonic Picture for Orchestra."
"I did it as often as I could," he wrote. "So now is the time to let your memories entwine with the charms of our talented ensemble. Please feel free to hum along with the familiar tunes, imagine yourself waltzing at the Embassy Ball, or picture yourself anticipating the outcome at the Ascot Racecourse.
"Join us in reflections on human nature and relationships and the lessons we can all learn about class differences, human conduct and feelings. And most of all, simply enjoy the unforgettable music and engaging story."
Among those collaborating with Diazmunoz on "My Fair Lady" are UI voice Professor Ricardo Herrera, who is in charge of stage direction, and UI dance Professor Rebecca Nettl-Fiol, who created the choreography.
Leading the cast are Cristin Colvin and Wendy Muir as Eliza Doolittle, with Colvin performing on Thursday and Saturday and Muir, Friday and Sunday; Timothy Renner as Professor Henry Higgins; Rick E. Calk III as Col. Pickering; Daniel Judd as Alfred P. Doolittle; and Griffin Candey and Benjamin Krumreig as Freddy Eynsford-Hill. Candey sings on Thursday and Saturday and Krumreig, Friday and Sunday. And UI voice Professor Jerold Siena portrays Zoltan Karpathy.
Because "My Fair Lady" has been produced many times on stages and in film, the UI Opera Program is presenting it as a "minimalistic but no less creative semi-staged concert setting," Diazmunoz wrote.
The musical is adapted by George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" and Gabriel Pascal's movie "Pygmalion." Shaw based the play on the story of the mythical king of Cyprus-turned-sculptor, also named Pygmalion, and his beautiful ivory creation, Galatea.
Upon Shaw's death in 1950, Pascal invited Alan Jay Lerner and his partner, Loewe, to create a new version.
"The pair immediately realized that certain conventions of musical theater of the time were missing: where was the love story, the subplot, the ensemble?" Diazmunoz wrote. "Lerner and Loewe abandoned the project for a few years, picking it up again after Pascal died and finding their way with ingenious dramatic solutions to hold our attention, from the home of Professor Henry Higgins to high points in Covent Garden, the Ascot Racecourse and the Embassy Ball. Even the ending, left open for each of us to decide if Eliza Doolittle marries Freddy Eynsford-Hill or returns to Henry Higgins, was a magnificent and creative invention."
Their score for the musical was orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang, Diazmunoz wrote. So in the UI Opera Program production of "My Fair Lady," the UI Symphony Orchestra will be on stage rather than in the pit to further highlight the score.
If you go
What: The University of Illinois School of Music Opera Program presents a semi-staged/concert version of "My Fair Lady," with artistic direction and conducted by Eduardo Diazmunoz, stage direction by Ricardo Herrera and choreography by Rebecca Nettl-Fiol
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Tryon Festival Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., U
Tickets: $26 for adults; $22 for senior citizens, $17 for students; $10 for UI students and youths
Note: The performance will last about 3 hours, 10 minutes
Information: 333-6280; http://www.krannertcenter.com