|Madeline Powell as Eliza Doolittle
My Fair Lady was my first Broadway LP album, and I must have played it a hundred times, loving each song like it was the best of the best. The musical presents an enjoyable storyline woven together by a lush score, wonderful lyrics, lavish costumes and eye-pleasing sets.
As part of Broadway’s Golden Age
of musicals, it’s been a wildly popular and successful 6-time Tony Award
winning show for over 60 years played throughout the world in dozens of
languages. The 1964 film adaptation was a multiple Oscar winner and box office
smash. In short, My Fair Lady is a classic and has been appropriately dubbed by many
as “the perfect musical.” It has been and continues to be my favorite musical
of all time.
The Lincoln Center Theater revival of this masterpiece directed by Bartlett Sher that is now touring nationally is a welcome addition to the Hippodrome Theatre’s 2022-23 Season. As has generally been the case, the touring shows at the Hippodrome have been stellar, polished productions, so it was not a stretch for me to have lofty expectations about Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady given its pedigree and the theatre’s history of excellence.
At its core, the production stayed true to the original, and that is a major sigh of relief. After all, there is no need to mess with success, and Sher did little in the way of tinkering. This is evident during the uncomfortably obvious sexist scenes and songs that were acceptable in the 1950’s but are offensive by contemporary sensibilities.
The music by Frederick Loewe and
the utterly outstanding lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner are the centerpiece of My Fair Lady. Lerner’s book was based on George Bernard
Shaw’s Pygmalion. The talented leads and the orchestra led by
director David Andrews Rogers are excellent in delivering the iconic songs.
Nonetheless, the opening night
production experienced some technical issues, which are fixable and most likely
won’t be evident in future presentations. Part of the set would not move
forward downstage resulting in an unusual interruption of the presentation that
lasted for about 10 minutes. In addition, there were some mic/sound problems in
the first act that need to be addressed.
The story centers on a young
Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, literally plucked from the streets of
London during the early part of the 20th century by erudite
phoneticist Professor Henry Higgins in a seemingly uphill battle to turn her
speech patterns around and ultimately make her pass as a lady as part of a bet
with a colleague Colonel Pickering.
Their relationship takes on an interesting dynamic as the show proceeds,
and whether or not Eliza and Higgins turn their love-hate relationship into
love is ambiguous at best. All this
transpires with the clear division, values and conflicts between the upper and
lower classes of London as the backdrop.
"At its core, the production stayed true to the original..."
With most musicals, if there are
three or four songs that are memorable, that would be considered a
success. In My Fair Lady’s first-rate catalogue there are well over a dozen
such songs, each distinct and blessed with wonderful melodies and clever
lyrics. The songs don’t just serve as
filler or interruptions; they move the action forward and maintain an integral
place in the story. Lerner’s lyrics are as good as it gets in musical theatre, and
many leave a smile as the numbers are performed.
The iconic “I Could Have Danced
All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and “Get Me to
the Church on Time” are favorites for sure.
But even the others, such as “I’m an Ordinary Man,” “Wouldn’t It Be
Loverly,” “You Did It,” and “Show Me” are also examples of tuneful numbers that
Madeline Powell plays the part of the ornery Eliza Doolittle with sass and class. Possessing a soaring soprano voice, Ms. Powell delivers excellent renditions of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “Show Me,” and she truly triumphs in the big number “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Ms. Powell is outstanding as a vocalist, and her acting is spot on as Eliza with all the voice inflections, facial expressions and body language required by the part. Her character evolves from being a meek, angry street woman to a proud person who demands self-respect and kindness.
As the pompous, chauvinistic bully Professor Henry Higgins, Jonathan Grunert hit it out of the park aided by a superbly strong speaking voice—perfect for theatre. His onstage chemistry with Ms. Powell is fantastic and essential for the production to be successful.
|Jonathan Grunert, Madeline Powell and John Adkison
Solid all around and executing his
songs with the appropriate amount of flair, Mr. Grunert, a younger version of
previous Henry Higginses, is a man in perpetual motion in virtually every
scene. It’s not that he is dancing, but
his precise high energy movements on the stage, especially during his vocal
performances, are well choreographed and executed.
During the course of “I’m an
Ordinary Man”, however, I would have liked Mr. Grunert to emphasize the word “BUT” as
was done in the original by Rex Harrison for a dramatic transition. “BUT, let a woman in your life and your
serenity is through…” It would have been a good touch to deliver it in that
Another quibble is that in his
zeal to demonstrate his utter exasperation with Eliza and reinforce his
dominance over her, Mr. Grunert’s dialogue is occasionally rushed, rather than
letting each word sink in. Regardless, he was well cast for the role.
Higgins’ sidekick is Colonel
Pickering, also a phoneticist, who wagered that Higgins could not turn the
disheveled Eliza into a lady to pass as such in London’s upper crust
society. He lost the bet but is pleased
to see the results.
John Adkison ably plays Colonel Pickering authoritatively trying to rein in Higgins’ impatience and coldness
In a comedic role, Eliza’s father,
Alfred P. Doolittle, is an unmarried working-class boozer. Michael Hegarty plays
the part to the hilt with a muscular voice and excellent dancing. He allows
Higgins to house Eliza in exchange for five pounds and is always eager to find
money. “With a Little Bit of Luck” and the
show-stopping, a little bawdy number “Get Me to the Church on Time” are his featured songs, and he
along with the energetic ensemble under the choreography by Christopher
Gattelli, perform these numbers exceptionally.
Nathan Haltiwanger plays Freddy
Eynsford-Hill, Eliza’s suitor with whom she has little interest. His one number, “On the Street Where You
Live” (and reprise) was performed very well with a rich tenor voice and was an
Notable performances are also
turned in by Madeline Brennan as Higgins’ stern housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, as
well as Becky Saunders who plays the role of the socialite Mrs. Higgins, mother
of Henry, who clearly has issues with her son.
The remainder of the cast and ensemble support the leads with great
talent and energy.
There are numerous scene changes throughout the show, and Michael Yeargan’s set design is a combination of a fixed set, such as Higgins’ lavish study, and moveable set pieces.
is the venue for many of the musical numbers features wood paneling, a ceiling
high window, a couple of desks and chairs, and an ornate wooden spiral staircase.
As noted earlier, the set was unable to move downstage in the first act
necessitating some repairs.
The staging and hence the pacing
of the production were hampered by large set pieces including three street
lamps and other objects. Scene changes were not executed as fast as we’ve seen
in other touring productions.
Nonetheless, the period costumes
designed by Catherine Zuber are superb. They are manifested in the Ascot scene
where the upper crust women wore lavish gowns and oversized feathered hats.
Despite sound snafus in the early
part of the show, designers Marc Salzberg and Beth Lake did a fine job. In
particular, the sound of horses racing during the Ascot event sweeping through
the theater was effectively executed.
Overall, this version of My Fair Lady scores high marks for not
only staying true to the classic work but also for enabling a talented,
energetic cast to do justice to this magnificent musical.
With a little bit of luck, with a
little bit of luck, you should find the time to see this show.
Running time. Two hours and 55 minutes with an intermission.
My Fair Lady runs through January 15 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit Ticketmaster or the Hippodrome.
Photos: Jeremy Daniel