Gregory Isaac: “I discovered that trying to live in New York as an actor was nearly impossible. So two years ago I made the move (to Mt. Airy).”

By Rita Charleston

“My Fair Lady,” with songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, and often referred to as “the perfect musical,” has been extended at Quintessence Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave., through Dec. 30.

Based on the Greek myth of “Pygmalion,” George Bernard Shaw created Henry Higgins, a celebrated professor of phonetics, who makes a bet that he can pass off a lower class flower girl from Covent Garden as a duchess at the Embassy Ball. By dressing her in expensive clothing, improving her manners and teaching her how to speak correctly, Higgins transforms Eliza Doolittle into a lady. Then, despite his best intentions, Higgins becomes enamored with his creation, now the most eligible lady in London.

With hit songs including “On the Street Where You Live,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain” and countless others, the show is a standout. And seeming to live up to its “perfect” moniker is Gregory Isaac, who plays Higgins in the show. “Higgins is a man who means well but is certainly flawed,” Atlanta native Isaac points out. “And I think Shaw purposely wrote him that way, which makes him the perfect character for me to play.”

Isaac’s first role that eventually led him into acting was in “Pippin” when he was a freshman in high school. He says, “I was very lucky that my parents sent me to a private school with a wonderful fine arts program. While there, I got involved in many things, but I think it was that first show that made me decide I wanted to do this for a living.”

So after high school, Isaac was off to Webster University in St. Louis, although he dropped out before graduating. Intent on making a name for himself in musical theater, he moved back to Atlanta, where he had a few connections, then off to Chicago for a decade. He next spent a few years in New York before finally moving to Mt. Airy. “Alex Burns, artistic director at Quintessence and the man who directs this show, and his friend Mattie Hawkinson were co-adapting ‘The Three Musketeers’ for Quintessence.

“Mattie was a friend of mine from Chicago, so one day they invited me down to perform in that show. I didn’t know Philly, but one day I found Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy and fell in love with the area. It’s quiet and beautiful, close to Quintessence, and of course I discovered that trying to live in New York as an actor was nearly impossible. So two years ago I made the move.”

Since that move, Isaac has appeared in many productions at Quintessence, performing quite frequently and even becoming a company member. He formerly served as a company member with the Vintage Theatre Collective in Chicago, as the executive director of Joyseekers Theatre in New York City, as a company member of Titan Theatre Company in Flushing, New York, and as a co-host of the Table Readers, a monthly play-reading group in New York City. He’s also worked at a number of notable theaters including The Goodman Theatre, The Alliance Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and others.

Asked his age, Isaac laughingly declared he is “on the north side of 35.” That may be a bit vague, but he’s certainly not vague about his love for this show and for the theater in general. “Exploring the text for this show, discovering that Higgins is a bit of a clown, which is the way Shaw wrote him to be, creates a bit more slapstick in the play than there is in the musical. I love performing and being in front of an audience. But I also love working with a talented group of people, which I certainly have in this show. I usually savor that part of the process the most.”

For tickets to “My Fair Lady,” call 215-987-4450.

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