Community theater: It’s all about camaraderie, a chance for amateur actors who’ve gone on to nine-to-five jobs to reconnect with their roots. But lately in Loudoun, community theater also means a chance to catch well-done, low-cost productions of classic favorites.
Loudoun’s Pickwick Players celebrates 11 years of performances this spring with a long-awaited production of the classic musical “My Fair Lady.”
The musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” tells the well-known story of Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle who takes speech lessons with Professor Henry Higgins so she can talk like a lady.
Pickwick’s founder and director Michele Reynolds has been dying to put on “My Fair Lady” for years—but regional production rights were tied up by licensing issues. When the rights became available this year, Reynolds jumped at the chance. Pickwick is the first local theater group to put on the play in years.
Playing the leading role of Eliza has been years in the waiting for Corinne Fox. The 31-year-old is a Pickwick regular who was thrilled when the company announced auditions for “My Fair Lady” a few years ago, only to be disappointed when production rights were not available.
Fox lives in Ashburn with her husband Justin and works as an executive assistant for the Sterling-based Orbital ATK technology company. She has been an amateur actress since elementary school. And when she and Justin relocated to Virginia for work, the couple got into community theater as a way to meet people and connect with their new community. Fox got involved with Pickwick in 2012, with the company’s production of “Singin’ In The Rain” and has appeared in numerous shows with the company since then. But “My Fair Lady” is the big one.
“Getting into the role of Eliza has been so much more challenging than I
expected,” Fox said. “She’s a very complex character and a very vocally demanding character, which I wasn’t quite expecting. Her songs are really all over the spectrum—from very low angry belting to very high soprano singing, all within the span of a few minutes.”
Fox has also embraced Eliza’s linguistic transformation from Cockney to the Queen’s English.
“That’s just fun,” Fox said. “As an actress I love exploring different accents and how you can still emote through them, and that sort of a thing.”
For Jeff Mitchell, who plays Henry Higgins, the show was a chance to get back to his longtime love of theater now that he’s an empty nester.
Mitchell, 54, a father of four and director of operations at an Alexandria-based consulting firm, was also a high school and college performer and was involved with community theater in his home state of Utah.
When he and his family moved to Leesburg six years ago, Mitchell learned about Pickwick and got involved with an offshoot choral program. He also got involved with Heritage High School’s award-winning drama program through his youngest son, now 19. This year, with his four children now out of high school and on to other things, Mitchell decided it was time to commit to a musical—and Henry Higgins was the perfect role.
“I’ve worked hard. Henry Higgins is a huge role; I had no idea. It’s been a
huge commitment but very rewarding. The show is really coming together well,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell has been working on his British accent with his wife Lou who hails from the county of Hampshire in southern England. “She thinks it’s horrendous,” he said with a laugh.
The lead roles are double cast so Fox will be co-starring with Mike Goshorn while Mitchell will appear with Kristin Fitzgerald.
Reynolds, the play’s director, is a teacher and performer who has lived in Northern Virginia on and off for decades, between stints abroad for her husband’s career. She launched Pickwick in 2004 when her husband retired and the couple moved to Purcellville.
At the time, local theater offerings were relatively small, and Reynolds decided to create a nonprofit company offering family-oriented shows with a classic twist. Like many local theater groups, Pickwick focuses on musicals, which tend to have a greater appeal to Loudoun’s family-focused audience.
While many of her actors are adults, Reynolds does make a point of casting children and providing opportunities for young actors. In shows like “My Fair Lady” which aren’t kid-heavy, Reynolds often adds ensemble roles for children. The eight young cast members of “My Fair Lady” will do a choral entr’acte for the upcoming production. The company also offers a yearly theater summer camp for children.
“There’s ultimately something in it that I love and that the people who are involved love. We get something back from the process or we wouldn’t continue doing it,” Reynolds said. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in watching all the pieces come together and becoming a cohesive team that creates this work of art.”
The Pickwick Players perform “My Fair Lady” Friday, May 13, Saturday, May 14 and Friday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 21 at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Harmony Middle School, 38174 W. Colonial Highway, Hamilton. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for children and seniors.
The Pickwick Players summer drama camp for students ages 7-13 takes place June 20-July 1 at the Hillsboro Old Stone School.
For tickets and information, go to www.thepickwickplayers.com