Regional Reviews: Phoenix
My Fair Lady
Also see Gil's review of A Tuna Christmas
With such well-known songs as "I Could Have Danced All Night," "The Rain in Spain," and "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," and an extremely well-written book, My Fair Lady is a classic musical in the truest sense. The national tour of the recent Lincoln Center Theatre production of this well-loved show has superb leads, a talented supporting cast, rich direction, gorgeous costumes, and an impressive set designa winning production that lovers of the show and fans of classic musicals are sure to enjoy. This production also softens somewhat the misogyny in the script, which helps the material work for the modern era.
My Fair Lady is based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion and is set in London in 1912. When Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle meets the phonetics expert and aficionado of the "science of speech," Professor Henry Higgins, she wishes for a better life for herself, one that she believes a more refined accent can bring. The self-centered Higgins believes he can teach Eliza the correct way to speak, so he wagers a bet with his fellow linguistics professional Colonel Pickering that he can transform Eliza into a proper lady within six months.
Alan Jay Lerner's book and lyrics drip with sophistication and a witty sense of humor, and Frederick Loewe's music is intelligent and glorious. My Fair Lady was a smash hit when it premiered in 1956, winning six Tony Awards including Best Musical.
The Lincoln Center production, under the direction of Bartlett Sher, steers away from over romanticizing the story and paints Eliza as more in control of her destiny and Higgins as less of a controlling and somewhat mean-spirited man than shown in previous productions. Those subtle shifts in tone help put the two on a more equal footing and also give Eliza a sense of empowerment that works quite well, especially for the ending which, while still somewhat ambiguous, allows Eliza to have the upper hand. The slight updates also add some nice touches to depict other women during that period, including seeing women suffragettes, that help this battle of the sexes be more than just the battle between Higgins and Eliza and more identifiable for a modern age.
Even with these welcome modern updates, plus a terrific book and a score chock full of hit songs, having a strong relationship between Eliza and Higgins is important for the success of any production of this show, and the tour cast has a glorious and winning duo in Nicole Ferguson (understudy, seen at this performance) and Laird Mackintosh. Ferguson has the right combination of feistiness and eagerness in her depiction of this young woman who seeks a better life for herself. Mackintosh's Higgins is quite engaging and charming, though still somewhat of an oblivious and selfish brute, which helps slightly soften what can usually be an overly stern and harsh portrayal. Ferguson's voice soars on Eliza's many songs and her transformation from poor and dirty flower girl to refined woman of the world is fun to watch. Mackintosh's portrayal is witty and his delivery of his songs is quite passionate.
The supporting cast are all as good as the two leads in creating realistic characters. As Pickering, Kevin Pariseau exudes a delicate sense of charm and a tremendous amount of care, especially the few times when it seems Higgins has gone too far in his lashing out at Eliza. Adam Grupper is humorous, sweet, and incredibly fun as Eliza's boisterous father. His two numbers are crowd pleasers. As Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the man who becomes smitten with Eliza, Sam Simahk has warmth and a wonderful sense of joy. He also has a gorgeous, strong and clear singing voice, and his solo of the show's big romantic ballad, "On the Street Where You Live," is a major highlight. Leslie Alexander is compassionate and caring as Higgins' mother, and Gayton Scott is appropriately dry and commanding as Higgins' housekeeper. All of the supporting cast have wonderful facial expressions and excellent line delivery that bring the witty dialogue to life. The ensemble is extremely hardworking, playing multiple parts of both the upper and lower class characters with ease and delivering some gorgeous harmonies.
Christopher Gattelli's choreography is fun, with energetic steps danced well by the whole cast for "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time," and refined and graceful movement for both the Ascot sequence and "Poor Professor Higgins" where the ensemble moves throughout Higgins' house. A non-stop parade of rich, exquisite, period-perfect costumes by Catherine Zuber feature stunning gowns for Eliza, and the elaborate set design by Michael Yeargan features a two-tier set that rotates and set pieces that use forced perspective designs to create a three-dimensional effect. The rotating set also adds a nice sense of time passing. Donald Holder's lighting delivers a gorgeous range of colors and hues that work well to depict the dark night time scenes and the bright day time moments in the show.
My Fair Lady may be 65 years old, but with an excellent cast, impressive creative elements, and strong direction, along with shifts in tone that slightly soften the misogyny in the script, the national tour of this beloved show is a fun, fresh take on this classic musical.
My Fair Lady runs through December 12, 2021, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.asugammage.com or by calling 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.myfairladyontour.com
Direction: Bartlett Sher