My Fair Lady in Concert
As the fourth annual musical theatre collaboration between the Valley's two arts organizations, the slightly abridged version of this well-known show was directed by Phoenix Theatre Producing Artistic Director Michael Barnard, with the orchestra under the baton of guest conductor, and Tony Award winner, Ted Sperling, who has also led the Symphony in other concerts in the past. Barnard and Sperling worked together on last year's collaboration, South Pacific, and their effectiveness in collaborating is quite apparent.
Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady opened on Broadway in 1956. Set in London in 1912, Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, upon meeting phonetics expert and aficionado of the "science of speech" Professor Henry Higgins, wishes for the better life a more refined accent would deliver. The self-centered Higgins wagers a bet with his fellow linguistic professional Colonel Pickering that he can transform Eliza into a proper lady within six months just by teaching her the correct way to speak. The combination of Alan Jay Lerner's book, with its sophisticated sense of humor, the instantly loveable characters of Eliza and Higgins, and the glorious score by Frederick Loewe elevated My Fair Lady into a smash hit, winning six Tony Awards including the top honor of Best Musical.
The success of any production of My Fair Lady rests on the relationship between Eliza and Higgins, and with the assured performances of Jeannie Shubitz and Terry Lee Gadaire this one didn't disappoint. Shubitz's lilting soprano easily let her songs soar and her well-honed acting skills painted a multi layered character that quickly showed Eliza's aspirations for a better life, one that included having to put up with Higgins' bullying. Shubitz also played the role of Eliza in the Arizona Broadway Theatre production in 2011. Gadaire's Higgins, at first, might have come across as just a bit too harsh and selfish, but the amount of humor and wit he brought to Lerner's famous dialogue and his rich singing voice created an engaging portrayal.
In the supporting cast, Mike Lawler was fine as Pickering, though just a little too low key for my taste, Chris Ericksen was appropriately lively as Eliza's father, and Ian Christiansen brought a lovely sense of passion to Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the man who becomes enamored with Eliza. Christiansen achieved a nice sense of longing and desire in the show's only real romantic ballad, "On the Street Where You Live." Lisa Fogel as Higgins' mother had perfect delivery of her lines and a superb amount of dry wit that easily received big laughs from the audience. Sally Jo Bannow gave housekeeper Mrs. Pearce a nice touch of compassion in her dealings with Eliza. The hardworking ensemble played multiple parts with ease and the male ensemble delivered some stirring and gorgeous harmonies.
Much more than just a concert version of the musical, the production featured an abundance of rich costumes and several set pieces. And, while the set was far from elaborate, a lovely painting of London featuring Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster that stretched across the back wall of Symphony Hall was quite effective in setting the scene for the show. Barnard also used the vast width of Symphony Hall to deliver nicely choreographed moments that added a richness to the many show stopping songs in the show. While the depth of the playing space was small, due to the space required for the large orchestra, the choreography for the many ensemble numbers, including "Poor Professor Higgins" and Doolittle's two numbers, "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time," was quite elaborate and added a rousing and varied amount of dance steps delivered expertly by the cast.
The two arts organizations have already announced a fifth collaboration for next May, with performances May 29th to the 31st, 2015. While they've not yet announced what musical they will be presenting, I'm sure it will be another excellent experience and just as successful as this year's co-production of My Fair Lady.
My Fair Lady with the Phoenix Symphony and the Phoenix Theatre played three performances from May 30th to June 1st at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at www.phoenixsymphony.org. Upcoming production information at the Phoenix Theatre can be found at phoenixtheatre.com.
Conductor: Ted Sperling