My Fair Lady

Lisa O'Hare and Christopher Cazenove
It's a loverly production, it is. My Fair Lady, arriving on U.S. shores from the 50th Anniversary London production and U.K. national tour (featuring Matthew Bourne's choreography and staging and Trevor Nunn's direction), is a polished and elaborate showcase of the classic musical with the glorious Lerner & Loewe score. Based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, My Fair Lady debuted on Broadway in 1956 (after tryouts in New Haven and Philadelphia) and won six Tony Awards (of nine nominations). A very popular film version released in 1964 won eight Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture. It is a timeless story featuring engaging characters with, oh yes, that beautiful score.

The well known plot in a nutshell: Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins and his friend Colonel Pickering engage in a bet that Higgins cannot take poor flower girl Eliza Doolittle, train her and transform her into a lady who can pass for a duchess at the Embassy Ball. Eliza's heavy Cockney accent and undeveloped manners, as well as her stubbornness, provide a challenge for Higgins, but one his ego cannot resist.

The new U.S. tour features West End theatre performers Christopher Cazenove and Lisa O'Hare as Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. They are both solidly comfortable in these roles. Cazenove offers a "Rex Harrison" vocal performance of Higgins, speak-singing his songs, and brings a right amount of prickliness and aloofness for the early development of Higgins before the man comes around as a bit more gentile at the end. O'Hare provides a lovely voice in her performance of classic songs like "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "The Rain in Spain" (a highlight) and "I Could Have Danced All Night," though it is not possible to overcome the aural memory of Julie Andrews, the original Broadway Eliza. Ms. O'Hare's Eliza is appropriately spunky and charming, though her heavy Cockney accent early on, combined with a bit of over-miking, makes it tough for the audience to just sit back and enjoy Eliza's introductory scenes. When the "finished" Eliza is introduced, Ms. O'Hare provides a stunning sight.

Often outshining the leads are several superb supporting performances. Tim Jerome is an audience favorite, with his robust and eye-twinkling style and two very large musical numbers (an exciting Stompish "With a Little Bit of Luck" and a Mel Brooks-ish "Get Me to the Church on Time"). Walter Charles is simply delightful as Pickering, perfectly proper most of the time, yet joyously abandoned at others (with flower clenched in teeth, his bit of flamenco on Higgins' desk in "The Rain in Spain" is sensational). Making the most of only a few scenes is Sally Ann Howes as Higgins' (apparently child bride) mother. Her Mrs. Higgins is perhaps a bit softer than some; she is dignified and wise. Justin Bohon is a very excitable Freddy, who falls for Eliza like a young boy, singing well (and dancing little, unfortunately).

Anthony Ward's elaborate set design is amazing in its scope for a touring production. Higgins' studio in particular is quite stunning, with overflowing bookshelves to the "ceiling" and a high balcony. Bourne's choreography has been restaged effectively by Fergus Logan. His work (with Ward's costumes) makes for a memorable "Ascot Gavotte" as the upper crust, in nearly colorless dress, observe the horseraces in appropriately stiff and stuffy manner.

Frederick Loewe's music is lushly presented through William David Brohn's orchestrations by a very talented orchestra of mostly local musicians, conducted by James Lowe.

My Fair Lady ran through September 23 at the Benedum Center. The tour continues to Cincinnati and Milwaukee. See for more information.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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