Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts’ upcoming production of My Fair Lady is going to turn heads. With a smaller cast and two-piano musical arrangement, the show is going to be stripped of much of the “spectacle.” This exciting new endeavor is being directed by 33-year-old Michael Arden, who’s no stranger to directing innovative work.
Arden, a Juilliard alumnus, began as an actor on Broadway in 2003’s Big River as Tom Sawyer, but always wanted to direct. Arden says, “I’m thrilled and grateful to work as an actor, which has helped me as a director. [When acting] I was able to see a process.” Acting has helped Arden direct others. “As a director, I get to help everyone achieve their greatest work, especially working with actors,” he says. “I’ve been the actor and been the actor who gets in their own way and I want to be able to clear the path for people.”
The My Fair Lady project came together when Arden performed in a production of Stephen Schwartz’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, directed by Bay Street Artistic Director Scott Schwartz. “[Scott and I] had been looking to do a project together and he called me and said, ‘Why don’t you direct My Fair Lady with two pianos?’” Arden says. “It shows a willingness [of Bay Street Theater] to do something different.”
Like most, Arden originally pictured My Fair Lady as a grand, spectacular affair with lots of glitz and a huge orchestra. “[Using two pianos] focuses the play. I’d only known My Fair Lady as a show with huge costumes, huge sets, 60 actors and the first time a turntable was used in theater,” he notes of the original production. “For me, it’s looking at it like the play Pygmalion, and get back to the [George Bernard] Shaw of it all. When you look at that way, it’s really exciting. It’s not a huge play; it’s a story about these two people, Eliza and Henry Higgins.”
My Fair Lady is not the first time Arden’s directed a new take on an established show. Arden was nominated for a Tony Award for directing Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening. His first exposure to deaf theater was in Big River. “I went to an audition for Big River knowing no deaf people and it was sort of by chance or divine intervention that I got into that and got into the deaf community,” he says.
The young director’s exciting stage career is complemented by his exciting personal plans. Arden is engaged to actor Andy Mientus. “We met at the opening night of Twyla Tharp’s The Times They Are A-Changin’. Andy’s college roommate was in the show with me,” Arden explains with a smile. “We got engaged a few years ago and are marrying in August.”
Arden is also a vocal proponent for LGBTQ rights and advocacy. “I think we’re at a critical moment in history,” he says. “It’s incredibly important for people’s voices and thoughts to be known and for people to not be silent on issues of their injustice. It’s going to take every group of people that’s been discriminated against to come together and ultimately, that’s about laying our weapons down and coming together in love.”
Speaking of love, Arden hopes audiences will love the love story of Eliza and Henry in My Fair Lady. “We’re used to seeing Higgins as a father figure to Eliza, and I’m excited at looking at these people as equals,” Arden says.
My Fair Lady runs August 2–28 at Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts. For tickets and more information, visit baystreet.org. and call 631-725-9500.