Q&A: San Jose Native returns to hometown theater with My Fair Lady

Actor Zoey Lytle talks about the relevance of the revamped musical classic, and what it means to be back home on a stage that began her theater dreams
Zoey Lytle is a San Jose native who is touring with the musical My Fair Lady, which comes to San Jose Center for the Performing Arts from February 21-26, 2023. Photo Credit: Jon Taylor

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

Actor, Dancer, Singer and choreographer Zoey Lytle is a multi-talented performer who is on her first national tour after graduating from San Jose State with a BFA in Dance. One of the stops in her multi-city tour will be bringing her back to her hometown and to the same theater where her dreams of the stage originally began as a child watching a show, the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

She is touring with My Fair Lady, which runs from February 21-26 at the aforementioned Center for the Performing Arts, and tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a working-class flower vendor and Henry Higgins, a high society linguistic professor who believes he can turn Eliza into a “proper lady”. With classic hit songs like “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “On the Street Where You Live”, the musical and its hit 1964 film adaptation have become iconic cultural milestones.

The revival version, which is adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s original play Pygmalion and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture based off it, premiered in 2018 and has been delighting audiences ever since.

Lytle recently spoke with us about her experiences on being part of a national tour, what it’s like to come back to the stage where her own ambitions were born, and how the show continues to stay relevant and feminist in its themes.

For more information visit broadwaysanjose.com.

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you yourself got started in your career and what that was like. What was your inspiration to get into the performing arts?

I actually started pretty young, and I saw The Sound of Music before I was raised in San Jose, which is obviously, you know, which is why I was calling you. So I saw The Sound of Music tour at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts and I remember telling my mom, I was like, “that’s what I want to do. I want to be on that stage someday. I want to do that for a living.” I was so inspired by it.

And so from there, I just started training. Most of my training actually did happen in San Jose. I went to Dance Academy USA, which is in Cupertino, and then also went to San Jose State and I got my BFA in Dance and then moved to New York City and started auditioning right after I graduated and have been pretty much working ever since.

Great. It’s really nice to talk to people in the arts that are from the Bay Area, but specifically, what does it feel like to be coming back to the South Bay as a stop on your tour?

It’s honestly really special because, like I said, the musical that I saw that inspired me to do this in the first place happened at the theater that we’re going to be performing at. So honestly, it’s really exciting. It’s really special, and I honestly feel, like, super honored to be coming back. I’m really excited, like, all of my family and friends are going to be there. I feel very lucky to be able to return to where I came from.

That’s great. So could you tell me a little bit about your role(s) in My Fair Lady?

Yeah, absolutely. So basically, as far as being a swing, what that means is I cover the entire ensemble, so I know all of the ensemble, all of the female ensemble I know all their roles. So I also have my own tracks. I have my own part that I play in the show every single day, but I also know everyone else’s role, and my role is designed so that it can be cut very easily. So basically, like, I’m on the end of formations and things like that. So if I need to go on to someone else, my normal role can basically be cut from the show. So I’ve been on for a lot of people, because obviously COVID is a thing and also, we’re human beings, and things happen.

So, it definitely keeps me on my toes, playing a lot of different roles. The thing is, it’s really challenging, but really fun. And for me, honestly, I get bored easily as a person, so I honestly really enjoy swapping around and getting to play a lot of people’s roles. I enjoy my role, and it’s been a good challenge.

In your view, what is the show about?

On the on the surface level, the show takes place in about 1912 England and it’s about a flower girl, and she kind of becomes the subject of a bet between two men, and they’re both, like, very upper class, and they think they can transform her into, like, a duchess, basically. And so it starts with just them basically having a bet and trying to make this happen, and then it’s kind of how that falls out.

But also, I feel like the show is actually really a commentary on class and what defines class, and it’s also kind of a shift of power dynamics in a really interesting way, where it’s like, she starts out with no power, but then kind of finds it. And so it’s interesting because it’s a very old musical, but it’s actually very feminist and progressive for when it was written. And I think that’s something that people miss all the time. And our show actually, in the movie, it ends with Eliza and Higgins getting together at the end, or implies that they do in the movie. But in our play, Eliza actually leaves at the end, which is accurate to the book.

So that’s what happens in the book and how it was originally written, with a feminist viewpoint in mind. And so they brought that back in the musical. I personally just think it is really important and really cool and makes the show have actually a very neat commentary and message to it that I don’t really feel like the movie has. So, I feel like it’s a really beautiful, fresh take.

It honestly kind of shocking considering how long ago it was written, how relevant it still is today, and perhaps honestly, even more so in some ways, especially with the recurring climate. It’s very interesting how it applies to today.

For you specifically, what would you say is your favorite aspect of the show, from a dance number or experience from working on it?

My favorite dance summer is probably “Get Me to the Church on Time”, which is like this huge dance number. It’s kind of midway through act two. And it’s really fun because in my normal track, I’m usually a can-can dancer and it’s really fun. We just get to have a great time and just kick our faces and run around. That one is really fun, it’s just high energy. It’s very much like the kind of showstopper number of the production, that’s always really fun to do.

And then experience wise, honestly, I’ve really enjoyed traveling. It’s so fun to get to see a lot of parts of the United States that I really never would have gotten to just because, honestly, I never would have had a reason to, for example, come to Kansas City. And it’s gorgeous here, you know, it’s such a fun city. There’s a lot of great culture.

Like, “wow, how lucky am I to be here?” It’s somewhere I never would have thought to visit. So it’s definitely been very informative, we’ve learned a lot. And then also, I think the rehearsal process I really enjoyed too, because we got to work with so many great people and we got to briefly work with Bartlett Sher, the director of this production and he’s an absolute Broadway legend. So it’s just such an honor to get to collaborate with him.

Overall, why would you recommend people see My Fair Lady?

Well, I think it’s a very relevant show for a lot of people. And I think it’s a show that everyone can enjoy, which I don’t think is true for a lot of things. I think there’s a lot of shows that are very specific to an age group or a type of person. But I feel like this show is very accessible to everyone.

I think it’s not incredibly theoretical or anything. It’s funny, anyone who goes is going to have a great time. You could bring your grandma and your kid and everyone will have a good time. It’s just very friendly and accessible for everyone. And I feel like that’s like a nice thing a lot of people and whole families can come to.

PULLQUOTE: “it’s interesting because it’s a very old musical, but it’s actually very feminist and progressive for when it was written.”





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