Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
My Fair Lady
Also see Susan's review of The Foreigner
This production has many assets, notably Sally Murphy's sparkling performance as Eliza Doolittle and Terrence P. Currier's rascally, tap-dancing Alfred P. Doolittle. Murphy, a Broadway performer, is utterly convincing as both the rough-edged flower girl and the elegant lady she becomes under the tutelage of Professor Henry Higgins (Andrew Long, capable if a little persnickety), and Currier steals every scene he's in. Dana Kreuger is a deliciously dry Mrs. Higgins, and Will Gartshore gives Freddy Eynsford-Hill some backbone along with a glorious voice.
However, the minimalist approach is not always the best idea, and that's the case here. Despite the strength of Alan Jay Lerner's book and lyrics, built on the solid framework of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and as beloved as Frederick Loewe's music is, the skeleton needs more meat on its bones than given here in order to make its best appearance.
Schaeffer's approach is to literalize the subtext of the musical: the idea that true nobility has no relationship to social class, and that the only genuine differences between the poor and the wealthy is how they are dressed and their external manners. What that means in practice is that this My Fair Lady is a rather grim-looking evocation of early 20th-century London, played on a James Kronzer set that consists primarily of a polished thrust stage, openwork metal pillars, two tall doors, and various pieces of furniture.
More to the point, most of Jenn Miller's costumes are in plain black or grimy-looking shades of gray the notable exception is Eliza's ball gown, with shimmering white ruffles that suggest a mountain of whipped cream. In the interests of "deconstruction," footmen wear swallowtail coats with no sleeves and unattached cuffs, and the women of the ensemble wear dresses built around visible corsets. (For Ascot, they dress up with sashes and enormous, elaborate hats.) In practice, that means that the talented Channez McQuay appears both as fussy Mrs. Eynsford-Hill and as a bumptious Cockney prostitute, but to little effect.
Karma Camp's choreography tends toward the busy, except when she lets Currier, a sly old pro, take over the stage during "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time." Otherwise, it's women swishing their skirts and kicking their legs, and men doing light gymnastics, or Higgins' servants striking poses in backlit dioramas. Music director Jenny Cartney and Alfredo Pulupa provide hard-working piano accompaniment.