Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
My Fair Lady
George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion seemed to invite a musical version. Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music) took the story out of the drawing room and made it open to all of London and, of course, to the world. In 1956, My Fair Lady opened on Broadway to reviews theater folks only dream about. The show was an instant hit and continues, to this day, to please audiences.
This cast is excellent. Jillian Kates makes Eliza Doolittle a sympathetic character, with a backbone tough enough to deal with any bully. A triple threat, she leaves the audience cheering for her Eliza's success. Tom Ford continues to surprise and please audiences with his well-honed talents. He makes Henry Higgins a wonderful curmudgeon. He bullies Eliza and all of his servants, yet does it with such style that the audience is pleased with his work. Ford sings and dances well. And, certainly, he is one of the best actors around.
However, it's Colton Ryan as Freddy Eynsford-Hill who almost stops the show. Ryan took on a role that is almost forgettable and turned it into a star turn. He has a powerful voice that makes "On the Street Where You Live" truly memorable. Keep an eye on this talented man. He plans to graduate from Baldwin-Wallace this year and move to New York. I'll bet he's on Broadway within two years. M. A. Taylor plays Alfred P. Doolittle as the best street-wise philosopher to hit any stage. He looks like my fantasy Alfred P. Dolittle, and this guy can sing and dance. Doolittle has two big numbers: "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time." In this production both songs become giant dance numbers.
Gregory Daniels is responsible for the great dance scenes in this production. He choreographed the rowdy dances of Alfred P. Doolittle and the other people hanging out in Covent Garden and the elegant waltzes of the Embassy Ball. Daniels' attention to detail sets his choreography apart from most of the musical theater dances we see on Ohio stages.
Kathleen Pirkl Tague (dialect coach) has done a masterful job helping some of the cast develop upper-class English dialect. Others speak cockney. However, her work is at its best helping Eliza slowly change her speech from Cockney to upper-class English.
Charlotte M. Yetman (costume designer) obviously had a good time dressing the cast for this production. Of course, she did a great job with the costumes for the women in the Ascot Racecourse scene. Each woman wears a different type hat and each hat and dress deserves its own curtain call. Additionally, she designed great clothing for the men. Tom Ford (Henry Higgins) and Aled Davies (Colonel Pickering) are often dressed in the same style clothing but of slightly different shades of color.
Director Victoria Bussert celebrates thirty seasons with the Great Lakes Theater with My Fair Lady. This is a celebration worthy of the anniversary of Bussert bringing first-rate musical theater to her audiences. She brings together a cast of mature actors and university age students into an ensemble to tell Shaw's famous story of Eliza Doolittle. I've seen many of Bussert's local productions and have watched her create seamless productions that hold the audience from the first spoken word to the curtain call. She and her work are treasures we should enjoy.
This production of My Fair Lady reminds me of how good theater can be, and it deserves the attention of local audiences. This type of treat rarely comes our way.
Great Lakes Theater My Fair Lady runs through October 29, 2016, at the Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square, 2067 East 14th St., Cleveland. For ticket information, call 216-241-6000 or visit GreatLakesTheater.org.
Book and Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner