Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

My Fair Lady Score Soars,
but the Production Waivers at the Paramount

Lisa O'Hare
Wouldn't it be loverly to have seen Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews together in the original My Fair Lady in 1956 on Broadway? It's easy to see it would have been, by the evidence of the Ed Sullivan show clips on YouTube. And the movie, with Harrison and poor underrated Audrey Hepburn singing to Marni Nixon's shimmering vocals, is one of the best stage to screen musicals of the 1960s. What is most disturbing about the uneven Trevor Nunn directed version, imported from a glowing reception in London is how little the creative team trusted the Moss Hart prototype. Or perhaps more likely felt they could improve upon it. They haven't, but with the score intact and several solid key performances the production has its charms, but stops sort of dancing all night.

No need to regurgitate the plot specifics of the George Bernard Shaw story as adapted by Alan Jay Lerner. Anyone who knows anything about musicals knows the tale of a charmingly feisty cockney flower girl who becomes a lady as the result of a wager made by a self-adoring, confirmed bachelor phonetics teacher. It's a long show, as written, but who would cut more than a verse or two of the entire stunning Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe score? They haven't here, but they have re-orchestrated it unimpressively and cut the overture, which is one of the great Broadway overtures from the era when they reigned supreme as a pre-show canapé. This cut allows for a pointless opening dance sequence, one of several pallid numbers created by the usually inspired Matthew Bourne ( Mary Poppins, Edward Scissorhands), danced to rather random themes from the musical. Christopher Cazenove as Professor Henry Higgins is somewhat in the template of Harrison, though singing a bit more and talk-singing less, but altogether a rather dullish central character. A wisp of a Miss named Lisa O'Hare is a bit reedy-voiced (and under-miked) in "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" but she grows on you, and by the time Eliza finally gets the proper pronunciation of "The Rain in Spain" down, and coos and charms us with an unusually warm-hearted "I Could Have Danced All Night," she is on solid-footing. Her Eliza then brings down the roof at the Ascot racetrack with her hilariously awkward behavior and use of slang, and charms the heck out of Justin Bohon's endearingly ditzy (and often inebriated) twit of a beau, Freddy Eynsford Hill, as well as winning the heart of Higgins' grande dame with a heart of gold Mother, enacted by the one and only movie voice of Eliza, the warm and radiant Marni Nixon.

Timothy Jerome is rather too good of a song and dance man to make for the most characterful Alfred P. Dolittle, but it is more the fault of Bourne's busy, show-offish but unremarkable choreography that keeps "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church On Time" from being the raffish showstoppers they ought to be. Walter Charles, however, is in fine form as a rather more fey and flighty Colonel Pickering than the standard issue version, while Barbara Marineau makes a suitably starchy Mrs. Pearce.

Perhaps the biggest star of the show is the clever and handsome set design by Anthony Ward (though Ward's overall lighting design seems to feature too much in the way of darkness and shadows that are hard to account for) with Ward's characterful and handsome costumes (Eliza's ballgown is beyond loverly) coming in a close second. The Paramount's endless history for poorly operated spotlights continued to a dire degree at the performance I attended, to the point where the show might have been retitled My Fair Lady in the Dark, and the overall lighting design —originally by David Hersey with Rob Halliday also credited - seems to feature too much in the way of darkness and shadows that are hard to account for. The new orchestrations by William David Brohn are simply costume jewelry when compared to the diamond-like Phillip J. Lang originals.

Summing up, I would have to call this a disappointing production of a show which remains a high watermark of musical theatre adaptation. I'm thinking that Bartlett Sher, after The Light in the Piazza and now the celebrated revival of South Pacific, might trump Mr. Nunn in every way if a Broadway revival of this show is even being contemplated.

My Fair Lady runs through May 4, 2008 at the Paramount, 9th & Pine in downtown Seattle, For more information go online at

Photo: Gallery Studios/Tampa

- David Edward Hughes

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