Revivals of classic musicals don’t always work. I was not a fan of The King and I when it came around a few years ago. It was a beautifully mounted production, but something just didn’t really work for me. It may have been the songs, of which there were only a couple that were really memorable. I’m happy to say My Fair Lady is a smashing success. Reminding us that great material never goes out of style. This is a richly designed and wonderfully performed production of a musical masterpiece. Filled with great songs and, as it always has, shines from a rich vein of humor. It’s easy to see why its revival was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, and difficult to see why it lost Best Musical Revival to Once on This Island, which I saw recently and while good, it doesn’t hold a candle to My Fair Lady.
My Fair Lady is a musical adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw 1913 play Pygmalion. It tells the exact same story only with musical numbers. Cockney Flower girl Eliza Doolittle is taken on as an experiment by Professor Henry Higgins a phoneticist. He will attempt to turn her into a proper english speaking woman in 6 months time. He is accompanied on this seemingly impossible task by fellow language enthusiast Colonel Pickering. But the road will not be easy, for even when they succeed in how she sounds, they have to contend with what she says. For their first test they will take Eliza to the horse races, she sounds perfectly elegant and proper, while she relays her belief that someone “done in” her relative. This “new small talk” as Higgins tries to pass it off as, acquires a devoted suitor for Eliza in the form of Freddy Eynsford-Hill. Who will spend much of his time thereafter hanging out “on the street where she(sic) lives”. We will also get to know Eliza’s Father who comes looking for money from Higgins to allow her to stay with him. He’s a man with a unique morality and strange logic, which will improve his station in life much to his consternation. At the end of the six months Professor Higgins presents Eliza at an Embassy Ballroom to see if anyone can tell she is not of their class. When the experiment is done, the reality sets in, Eliza should be on her way, but to where and what is she now fit for?
Eliza is played my Shereen Ahmed, she has a lovely voice, and handles the challenging speaking role well. Imagine having to master a nearly indecipherable Cockney accent and then a uber correct posh and proper english voice in the same show. Her standout song is “I Could Have Danced All Night”. As good as she is the real star of this production is Laird Mackintosh as Professor Henry Higgins. In a show full of accents and linguistic acrobatics, his is the crystal clear and concise voice that cuts through everything. He sings well and almost more importantly he has the perfect touch when it comes to the humor. The meld perfectly in his song “Why Can’t the English?”. However, the best voice in the company belongs to Sam Simahk who play Freddie, he gets the most romantic song to sing “”On the Street Where You Live”. In terms of comic acting Adam Grupper, delivers the goods as Eliza’s Dad Alfie.
The production itself is a gorgeousity to be sure. The sets by Michael Yeargan are very detailed and beautiful. The London street scene at the beginning starts everything off right. Designed using perspective and layered flats Yeargan creates a sense of scale that’s truly remarkable. The set for Higgins’s home is very cleverly designed on a turntable. You can follow the characters as they travel from room to room while the set spins. The backgrounds for the streets as well as at the ballroom are exquisite. However the ballroom does bring to mind the one design flaw I spotted. In that scene there are four, 2 dimensional flats that hang from the ceiling. They represent chandeliers, but they do not fit, they look like cardboard flats. Aside from that minor quibble, the look of the sets is remarkable. Complimenting them nicely is the lighting design by Donald Holder adding texture and mood to every scene. Of course the great source material from the celebrated collaborators of Lerner & Loewe is what really makes the show dazzle. All of these elements are brought together seamlessly under the flawless direction of Bartlett Sher.
My Fair Lady runs through March 8th for more information and to purchase tickets visit https://hennepintheatretrust.org/