My Fair Lady | The Muny

My-Fair-Lady 75It was without question an absolutely superb performance.

 

 

 

 

My-Fair-Lady 500

The rain stopped just in time Monday night, allowing the audience for My Fair Lady to enjoy The Muny’s 97th season opener dry and warm. Even if there had been rain, I am confident the energy of the crowd would not have lessened—there’s an electricity about this place on the first night of the first show, a current of excited chatter and smiling faces. Although June 21 is technically the first day of summer, The Muny’s show opener has always felt like the first day of summer to me.

Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson took a few minutes to speak before the music of the orchestra transitioned the audience back to London 1912. (Isaacson recently won five Tony Awards for his musical Fun Home). He calls My Fair Lady “a perfect show” in the playbill, which of course is all the justification needed for showcasing this story before the six shows still to come during this season. Although, its suggested perfection is ever so slightly dampened for me by the show’s ambiguous conclusion, it was without question an absolutely superb performance.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, My Fair Lady is a story primarily centered around two characters: professor and phoneticist Henry Higgins (Anthony Andrews) and Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Alexandra Silber). Upon encountering Doolittle selling flowers on the street, Higgins expresses his pure disgust for her dialect, Cockney English—the language of the working class—with the witty song “Why Can’t the English,” a number comically pleading for the proper use of the language of Shakespeare. Higgins confidently remarks that he could transform Doolittle into a real lady, even a duchess, in six month’s time. Although Higgins quits the scene here, Doolittle visits Higgins soon after in order to take him up on his informal offer. What follows is a lot of verbal exercises (such as the repetition of the phrase “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”), mixed feelings towards the smug Higgins, and eventually a stunning, yet complex, transformation in Doolittle.

My Fair Lady’s storyline is intriguing and its characterization some of the best I have ever seen onstage. Doolittle is a character who amuses and inspires; someone whose effort to learn to speak like those of a higher class is so convincing that as an audience member I clapped and cheered, extremely proud, when she was finally able to utter one of her practice phrases to Higgins’ standards. Higgins, on the other hand, gives us every reason to dislike him, such as his constant berating statements to Doolittle, but he lacks so much self-awareness that we can’t help but root for the fellow, hopeful that Doolittle can change Higgins just as he has changed her. What I especially love about My Fair Lady is that it has a sense of originality even still today—the playbill explains the show’s trajectory as “a 1956 Broadway musical based on the 1938 movie adaptation of a 1914 play” —as it doesn’t fall too heavily into the overdone stereotypes of its genre.

Typically I identify a star of the shows I review, but I am extremely pleased to conclude this is not possible for The Muny’s My Fair Lady. This show stars one of the most talented casts I’ve seen grace the stage of this outdoor theatre. Whether a major or minor character, each person on stage impressed, performing so flawlessly that each deserves their own star status. This includes two names I have yet to mention, Michael McCormick who played Doolittle’s father Alfred, and Paxton Whitehead as Colonel Pickering who is also a phoneticist. Even though he’s a piece of work, Alfred was actually one of my favorite characters, his numbers some of the most fun and light-hearted. I always seem to have a thing for the comic relief.

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how marvelously seamless this production was—directing, acting, choreography, lighting, and staging. It felt quite lengthy, but there’s brilliance in every last bit of it. If nothing else, it’s worth seeing to hear “I Could Have Danced All Night” performed. It’s an exquisite number, and perfectly sums up how I felt when the show was over. Like Eliza, I could have danced all night, captivated by the magic of theatre. | Megan Washausen

My Fair Lady runs through June 21. For ticket information, visit http://muny.org/. 

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