My Fair Lady

September 9, 2015

in Musicals

Musical (1956)

Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe

Directed by Scott Edmiston

Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Copley Square area, Boston

September 4 – October 11, 2015

With Jennifer Ellis (Eliza Doolittle), Christopher Chew (Henry Higgins), J.T. turner (Afred P. Doolittle), Remo Airaldi (Colonel Pickering), Jared Trollo (Freddy Eysnford-Hill), Beth Gotha (Mrs. Higgins), Cheryl McMahon (Mrs. Pearce), Tony Castellanos (Zoltan Karpathy)

Jennifer Ellis as Eliza Doolittle, Christopher Chew as Prof. Henry Higgins in 'My Fair Lady'

Jennifer Ellis as Eliza Doolittle
Christopher Chew as Prof. Henry Higgins
in “My Fair Lady”
Photo: Mark S. Howard
Courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

The sixty-year old hit returns to the intimate Lyric Stage.

This Broadway hit based on George Bernard Shaw’s witty play Pygmalion (1913), about the social and linguistic remolding of a Cockney flower-girl, starred Julie Andrews as Eliza, Rex Harrison as Prof. Henry Higgins, and Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle. It is hard to find a Broadway trio more immortalized by their success in a single venture. Remarkably, Harrison couldn’t really sing, but somehow, tuned to his requirements, Lerner and Loewe managed to create a part that mostly involved a kind of spoken singing which Harrison did very well. Stanley Holloway basically imprinted his name on the part of Alfred P. Doolittle, and Julie Andrews made an overnight name for herself as Eliza. That’s a lot for any revival to live up to.

The current production is designed for a somewhat later era than the original which gives it slightly different angle of incidence, but otherwise the songs and the book remain the same. The compact physical setting of the Lyric includes audience on three sides of its small stage, so the effect is quite different from that of a Broadway extravaganza. Some of this sizing works to the advantage of this production which provides an intimacy that is characteristic of the Lyric Stage, easily giving one close observation of the actors.

Other things do not work quite as well. The orchestra is stripped down to a keyboard, a violin and a cello which seems, in contrast to the lush orchestrations of the show’s legendary recording, quite thin. A wind or horn or two and a bass would have been welcome.

J. T. Turner as Alfred P. Doolittle and Company in 'My Fair Lady'

J. T. Turner as Alfred P. Doolittle
and Company
in “My Fair Lady”
Photo: Mark S. Howard
Courtesy of Lyric Stage Company of Boston

J.T. Turner as Alfred P. Doolittle provides an energetic and robust account of his two principal numbers – With A Little Bit Of Luck and I’m Getting Married In The Morning and lights up the stage considerably.

Jared Trollo as the lovesick Freddy Eynsford-Hill gives a warm and sonorous rendition of On The Street Where You Live.

It is nice to see Remo Airaldi, a long-time member of the company at American Repertory Theatre, as Colonel Pickering. He gives a playful and charming characterization of that supporting character. Cheryl McMahon offers pointed and dramatic support as Mrs. Pearce, beautifully taut. Tony Castellanos give a fun and broad account of Zoltan Karpathy, the slick and sneaky linguist who seeks to uncover Eliza’s real roots.

The two principals, Christopher Chew as Henry Higgins and Jennifer Ellis as Eliza Doolittle, are capable in their roles, but there is something not quite sharp and acute enough in the characterizations to make their relationship sparkle. Chew is earnest but Higgins’ insistently irritated and self-sabotaging perfectionism does not really come through. Also, his accent is not quite snobby and persnickety enough to live up to his reputation as an elocutionist. Ellis draws Eliza’s outlines reasonably well and she sings a lovely I Could Have Danced All Night, but the raw edge of her passionate attraction and annoyance with Higgins does not always emerge.

The choreography works quite well in some places and in others seems jerky and overdone. In the Alfred P. Doolittle numbers, in particular, the moves seem too complicated and erratic, though the intention to create a sense of London street urchins is clear.

Director Scott Edmiston has made an interesting attempt to transform this Broadway musical extravaganza into a more intimate love story, and though the suggestion of that personal and emotional story appears, the intensity of its realization does not quite crystallize.

There is naturally a sentimental pleasure in seeing this classic revived and to recall its musical numbers in context. One does, however, realize upon revisiting this musical that the narrative falls quite short especially at the end. Why Eliza comes back, what she realizes about her relationship with Higgins, and how Higgins responds to her, are all questions not dealt with terribly effectively.

The problem with the ending goes back to Shaw’s original Pygmalion, which did not have as happy an ending as does My Fair Lady; in the original Pygmalion Eliza simply leaves Higgins to marry Freddy. Shaw had to fight to try to keep the bitter realism, and lost out in various subsequent productions of Pygmalion in which the story was modified to make Eliza return to Higgins. Apparently Shaw was still fighting to keep the original ending even up until 1938, twenty-five years after the play’s debut.

A revival of My Fair Lady that did accommodate Shaw’s original intention for the ending would, indeed, offer a truly new twist, though to Broadway purists that would likely seem an adulteration of scriptural proportions.

A revival of My Fair Lady that did accommodate Shaw’s original intention for the ending would, indeed, offer a truly new twist, though to Broadway purists that would likely seem an adulteration of scriptural proportions.

– BADMan

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