FSU/Asolo Conservatory Grad Stars in My Fair Lady at the Van Wezel

Jonathan Grunert plays Henry Higgins in the classic musical, now on tour.

By Kay Kipling December 5, 2022

FSU/Asolo Conservatory alum Jonathan Grunert, at left, as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, with Madeline Powell as Eliza and John Adkison as Colonel Pickering.

Image: Jeremy Daniel

FSU/Asolo Conservatory alum Jonathan Grunert, appearing as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady Dec. 13-15 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, has a bit of an Eliza Doolittle story of his own to tell.

Like the flower seller heroine of George Bernard Shaw’s famous play Pygmalion, upon which the musical is based, Grunert can credit lessons in language for making a big difference in his life. While studying at the Conservatory (he’s a 2020 grad), he says the hard work done in classes focused on dialect gave him practice and insight into “Received Pronunciation”—the standard form of speech for educated Brits, perfect for Higgins.

“It’s not only speaking,” Grunert says. “It’s the way Higgins sees the world. That dialect work immediately translated into My Fair Lady.”

The current national tour of the Lerner-Loewe musical, based on the Lincoln Center production directed by Bartlett Sher, is Grunert’s first tour, and he seems to be loving it. When interviewed by phone, he and his fellow cast members were in Fort Worth, Texas, which happens to be close to where he grew up and attended Southern Methodist. University. So he was performing before appreciative hometown crowds.

“There are a lot of other cast members in the show new to touring, along with some veterans,” Grunert says. “In each city, I try to visit museums, eat different types of food.” And he says that so far, at least, he’s keeping up the energy needed for multiple performances each week, as with six shows over the Thanksgiving weekend. (The tour will continue through May 2023.)

“It takes a lot of time to focus on preparing for each show,” he says, “but the Conservatory prepares you for a high level of professionalism. And the audiences feed us with their energy; I’d say more than half of it comes from them.”

He adds that the show is “still so fresh, so new. When I’m backstage waiting to go on for a scene, I can hear Freddy [character Freddy Eynsford-Hill] singing ‘On the Street Where You Live,’ and it’s always like hearing it for the first time.”

Grunert appeared in several productions during his time in Sarasota.

Grunert, who’s not yet 40, is a younger Higgins than many audiences, familiar with Rex Harrison in the role, might expect. But he says it’s true to the Shaw original of Pygmalion, which on film starred Leslie Howard. “It makes for a more romantic lead,” he says. Harrison was also known for more talking than singing his numbers in the show, but Grunert says there’s a kind of sense in that for the character.

“He has difficulty connecting,” says Grunert of Higgins. “And that translates into the music. Even when he’s trying to be emotional and kind, he can’t fully sing, make that leap. But he’s very sensitive and vulnerable, too. When someone calls him a bully, he hears that, and it hurts his feelings. By the end, he’s broken open.”

While he’s performed in other musicals elsewhere, during his time as a Conservatory student Grunert appeared in straight plays here, including Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, Ibsen’s Ghosts, and the Asolo Rep production of Murder on the Orient Express. He’s already made plans to get together with friends and Conservatory classmates during his time in Sarasota.

For tickets to My Fair Lady at the Van Wezel, call the box office at (941) 263-6799 or go to

Show Comments