Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Imaginative My Fair Lady is "Loverly"
Also see Richard's review King John
Over the years I have seen 10 productions, starting with the original Rex Harrison/Julie Andrews Broadway production. I also worked four weeks as part of Harry Stradling Jr.'s camera crew on the Warner Brothers film. When I read that Bill English, artistic director of SF Playhouse, was doing My Fair Lady, I thought, "Oh, not another one." Well, I was completely wrong since this is a beautifully presented production with great singers, great dancing choreographed by Kimberly Richards, and a terrific set by Nina Ball.
This version focuses on exploring the relationship of Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle without all of the bells and whistles of a large scale production. The special wonder holding their magic together is the scintillating chemistry between Monique Hafen's heartfelt, dreamy Eliza and the tough, logic-wielding Henry, developed and wholly presented by an unsurpassable Johnny Moreno. Both are the youngest actors I have seen portray these very interesting characters. Johnny Moreno breaks with the tradition established by Rex Harrison by singing rather than talking most of the lines of his songs. He acts more meaningfully in the songs rather than in the dialogue and tends to play the man's rudeness as premeditated rather than involuntary. He has a strong voice singing "I'm an Ordinary Man," "Hymn to Him" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."
Monique Hafen, a non-British actress, gets both English accents exactly right, from a great Cockney accent to a full-blown upscale English lady's voice. Her vocal cords soar as she sings "I Could Have Danced All Night." She also has wonderful vocal chops in Cockney style on "Just You Wait," in which Bill English has incorporated the added enjoyment of Johnny Moreno and Richard Frederick (as Colonel Pickering) getting into the act.
As Pickering, Richard Frederick is the perfect side-kick, while Karen Hirst successfully doubles as Mrs. Higgins and Mrs. Pearce the housekeeper. Justin Gillman makes Freddy Eynsford-Hill one terrific twit. He sings "On the Street Where You Live" with great feeling. Charles Dean is memorable as Alfred P. Doolittle. He sings with gusto and in speech conveys the less attractive aspects of Eliza's absentee dad without rubbing our faces in it.
Luke Chapman, Mandy Khoshnevisan, Randy Nazarian and Corinne Proctor are brilliant playing the servants of Higgins, people in the beautiful Ascot scene, and dancers in Kimberly Richard's powerhouse dance numbers "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time." Director Bill English dropped the "Embassy Waltz" scene from this production.
Nina Ball's set is amazing for this small stage. It consists of what looks like solid arches that represent Covent Garden and panels that slide into the place without hesitation for a book-lined study of Henry Higgins. Even the "Ascot Gavotte" is cleverly staged, with elegant costumes by Abra Berman. Greg Mason and David Dobrusky on dual pianos are a great asset to this classic musical.
My Fair Lady runs through September 29th at the SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco. This marks the last production at this theatre. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson begins October 9 at their new location at 450 Post Street, just off Union Square, San Francisco. For tickets to this production please call 415-677-9596 or on line at www.sfplayhouse.org.