Lyric Light Opera Finds the Fun in a
Why must a classic be embalmed? That question was weighing heavily on my mind before seeing Lyric Light Opera's fresh, frisky and funny production of Lerner & Loewe's classic musical My Fair Lady. After years of seeing My Fair Ladys where Henry Higgins is portrayed in terms as close as possible to the Rex Harrison model (as cast in stone in the Warner Bros. film version), director Brenda Mueller's livelier and more romantic take on the tale of a cockney guttersnipe transformed into a Mayfair lady by a tweedy English phonetician is positively bracing.
Moss Hart's libretto, based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, remains a high-water mark among play to musical adaptations, and the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical score is one of those one hit after another tune stacks that simply don't exist in the world of modern musicals. But by playing Professor Henry Higgins as a one-note, snidely superior and asexual puppetmaster, the show is cheated of a satisfying resolution. We simply don't care if Higgins has "Grown Accustomed to Her Face" if all he wants is for Eliza to come back to fetch his pipe and slippers. In Greg Stone's suave yet human portrayal of Higgins, we see Eliza slowly getting under Higgins' skin, even as he rides herd on her to elocute "The Rain in Spain" properly. Stone sings the role a bit more than non-singer Harrison ever would or could have, which further takes the chill off the character. Marza Warsinske starts out a wee bit stiff in her earliest moments as Eliza, but once in the eye of the stormy war with Higgins, from her "Just You Wait," through to an exultantly giddy "I Could Have Danced All Night," and culminating in her declaration of independence in "Without You," she radiates charm and confidence, and palpable chemistry with Stone.
The supporting cast could hardly be bettered, starting with Alan Wilkie's twinkle in his eye turn as Higgins' devoted academic sidekick Colonel Pickering, to Dawn Brazel's cracklingly witty portrayal of Henry's savvy high-society mother. John Kelleher owns the stage every time he sets foot upon it as Eliza's wiser than he knows dustman dad Alfred Dolittle, and he leads the show's two most rousing revels, "With A Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time," while Derek Sellers as Eliza's erstwhile suitor Freddy is charming and sings the rhapsodic "On the Street Where You Live" with accomplished charm and vocal agility.
Musical director Michael Corey leads a smoothly satisfying 20-piece orchestra, and the large cast is well outfitted in handsome costumes rented from Utah Festival Opera, though Eliza's Ascot gown is something of a disappointment. But everything else in this My Fair Lady seems more loverly than ever!
My Fair Lady runs through November 17, 2012, at Kirkland Performance Center, Kirkland, WA. Tickets $24-$29. More information at www.lyriclightopera.org.