My Fair Lady at The 5th Avenue Theatre
My Fair Lady, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's musicalization of Shaw's Pygmalion, has been handsomely revived at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Director David Bennett and an accomplished cast of mostly Seattle players don't bring anything daringly new or original to the plate, but the result proves that sort of revision or reinvention to be unnecessary. There is definitely life in the old flower girl yet.
Loewe's romantic melodies and Lerner's witty and wise book and lyrics are as appealing as ever in telling the tale of phonetics professor Henry Higgins and his gambit to take cockney flower seller Eliza Dolittle and pass her off as an aristocratic British lady. Director Bennett paces the show briskly enough so that it doesn't betray its three hour running time, yet leisurely enough to give all of its main characters their due.
Seattle stalwart David Pichette begins the show as a bit too likable Higgins but from the top of act two on he hits his stride, and embodies the arrogant boorishness and superiority of the role to perfection through his clashes with the new and improved Eliza, before offering a rather splendidly touching rendition of "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face." Broadway's Judy Blazer (Me and My Girl, Titanic) sings splendidly throughout, and if she seems least at home as the guttersnipe Eliza, pre-transformation, she brings a welcome comic fire to the character and blossoms deliciously from "The Rain In Spain" onwards. Still, this My Fair Lady is very nearly stolen away from its central pair by the spirited and jovial performance of Laurence Ballard as Eliza's raffish father Alfred P. Dolittle. Though known almost exclusively for being a leading light in straight plays hereabouts, Ballard delivers his two crowd-pleasing songs, "A Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me To The Church On Time," with the air of a born song and dance man. One hopes to see Ballard have further opportunities along these lines (He'd be a marvelous Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd or Chairman in Drood).
Three notable Seattle talent, also not associated with doing musicals, don't have Ballard's opportunity to prove their versatility, but all do well with their largely non-musical roles. Sean G. Griffin's Col. Pickering is droll and cuddly as Higgins' co-conspirator in project Eliza, Lori Larsen makes her Mrs. Higgins a pussycat in Grande dame's clothing, and in another accomplished voyage away from her forever-in-reruns role as The Love Boat's Julie, Cynthia Lauren Tewes is a doughty delight as Higgins' disdainful housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. Holding his own handsomely with his veteran co-stars, Louis Hobson is goofily appealing as Eliza's smartly dressed but empty-headed suitor in waiting Freddy, his sure voice doing full justice to "On The Street Where You Live."
Choreographer Casey Nicholaw's brightest contribution, in a show notoriously light on dance opportunities, is the splendidly starchy "Ascot Gavotte," as well as an exuberant staging of "Get Me To The Church On Time." The musical direction by Joel Fram is paced at a gallop rather faster than the horses at Ascot throughout, while still doing justice to Loewe's loverly melodies. Gregory Poplyk's costumes are most attractive, and I especially liked Eliza's Ascot outfit being a bit more outlandish than normally used in that number. Michael Anania's imported sets are handsome enough if a bit cumbersome.
My Fair Lady at The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave in downtown Seattle, through March 16. For more information visit the 5th Avenue's website at www.5thavenuetheatre.org.