Regional Reviews: St. Louis
My Fair Lady
George Bernard Shaw based his original play on Pygmalion and Galatea in 1912, then Lerner & Loewe brought it to life again as a musical in 1956. And it stands to reason that the people at Stages must love My Fair Lady just as much, because it's come more fully to life, more than almost any other production I've ever seen of the show, in this newest production.
I'm tempted to say it's all just a happy accident, but it's hard to stumble into something along the way in rehearsal and just "accidentally" keep it going through the official opening night. So (for example) when Christopher Guilmet stands powerfully (in his vest and shirtsleeves, his hair looking wind-blown) over the elegant but heartbroken Pamela Brumley in act two, it suddenly looks like some forgotten moment from "Wuthering Heights" or "Jane Eyre," with a brooding 19th century man and a beautiful young lady at the end of her rope. I never thought of it as a Victorian-era story till now, but that's just one of the surprises in store under the direction of Michael Hamilton.
Not that Mr. Guilmet (as Henry Higgins) is some run-of-the-mill boor, of course. He's a very particular kind of boor, high-handed to others, but still managing to cherish his own inner child, to his (and our) delight. I did get a little hung-up at first on his vocal tribute to Rex Harrison (who, of course, starred in the original Broadway cast), but that high resonant tone gradually becomes Mr. Guilmet's own property, perhaps as soon as his second song, "I'm an Ordinary Man."
Ms. Brumley as Eliza is the true joy and sorrow of the piece, lifted (as everyone knows) from selling flowers on the street to passing as a duchess at an embassy ball. Brumley hits every note, in song and in spirit, and I can't blame her at all for raising her arms in a show of triumph at the end of "I Could Have Danced All Night," when she thinks she's in full blackout, a gesture of triumph in the afterglow. Her enthusiasm is entirely contagious, and so is Eliza's bewilderment at rising above her own station, to the point of economic exile in old and new worlds alike. (That alone may make it one of the most important American plays of the 21st centurythat sense of economic dislocation.)
John Flack is delightful as Colonel Pickering, and Edward Juvier is a gleeful sultan of the streets as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father. He and his companions (Sean Quinn and Patrick David) take their first number ("With a Little Bit of Luck") and make it ridiculous and amazing, and then come back later and top it completely with "Get Me to the Church on Time," with the rest of the street people of London. It's as if they were all born to the roles they're finally playing.
Brandon Davidson is on the high-end of the goofy-scale, but a perfectly charming Freddie Eynsford-Hill, and does very well with the most beautiful song of the night. He and Ms. Brumley have a lot more fine comic moments than you might be expecting, which is good because the show still runs about three hours and fifteen minutes (including intermission).
Zoe Vonder Haar is excellent as Mrs. Higgins, and Kari Ely is every bit as great as Mrs. Pearce (Higgins' housekeeper). A classic that really feels like a fresh new show.
Through October 6, 2013, at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer, at the south end of the Kirkwood Recreation Center. For more information go to www.stagesstlouis.org or call the box office at (314) 821-2407.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association, the professional union of actors and stage managers in the United States.