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My Fair Lady

The current revival of My Fair Lady arrived in the US directly from a successful UK tour, following an acclaimed three-year run in London. Now at the Buell through April 6th, it's easy to see what the Brits liked: the casting is true, the voices strong and well-matched, and the sets and costumes a refined facsimile of the period. In fact, most Americans will be more than satisfied with the experience. But to aficionados, that this well-conceived and superbly-executed production does not transfer completely to the American idiom makes for an interesting discussion.

Tim Jerome and Company perform A Little Bit of Luck.
Tim Jerome and Company perform
"A Little Bit of Luck"
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
The reason lies in director Trevor Nunn's emphasis on realism, which mutes the colors, the costumes, and ultimately the hyperbole that is capable of fully carrying the story to a more satisfactory conclusion. Along the way, when Alfred P. Doolittle and his seamy friends dance and make merry, they are not quite rowdy enough (Matthew Bourne's choreography falling short of liftoff), when Mrs. Higgins and her upper-crust coterie primp for Ascot, they are not quite silly enough (Anthony Ward's elegant costumes providing little contrast), and when Henry and Eliza realize they are in love, they are not quite smitten enough (Nunn's direction too literal to bring Henry half way to Eliza).

Lisa O’Hare as Eliza Doolittle and Christopher Cazenove as Henry Higgins.
Lisa O’Hare as Eliza Doolittle
and Christopher Cazenove as Henry Higgins
Photo credit: Michael Le Poer Trench
While My Fair Lady may not be a farce, there are elements of it that must be exaggerated for the full transformational effect to occur, particularly in Henry and Eliza's relationship; otherwise, like a rendition of The Taming of the Shrew in which Petruchio and Kate play it straight, their reconciliation is never believable. So what we end up with here is a truce, not a meeting of their minds and hearts.

Lisa O’Hare as Eliza Doolittle.
Lisa O’Hare as Eliza Doolittle
Photo credit: Michael Le Poer Trench
That's a shame, given the excellent craft work and talent in this production. Lisa O'Hare's Eliza is a feral cat when Henry finds her on the street. She's never been house-broken and bounces around his place as if it were an unwelcome cage, her progression to a refined lady made all the more amazing by contrast. Her soprano shines as if she stepped right out of the original cast album, wowing us in "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?", "I Could Have Danced All Night," and "Without You."

Christopher Cazenove as Henry Higgins and Lisa O’Hare as Eliza Doolittle.
Christopher Cazenove
as Henry Higgins
and Lisa O’Hare
as Eliza Doolittle
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Christopher Cazenove, as Henry, finds that pleasant netherworld between song and verse, in the manner of Rex Harrison and Richard Burton, while cultivating an ego seemingly beyond repair. Tim Jerome, a glint in his eye, mines the good, the bad, and the ugly in Doolittle. Walter Charles, as Colonel Hugh Pickering, finds the right touch to be both a friend to Henry and a sympathetic ear to Eliza. Justin Bohon, as Freddy, achieves the appropriate magnitude of puppy love/infatuation with Eliza to make us understand what she finds so compelling in the mature Henry. Marni Nixon, as Mrs. Higgins, provides a sympathetic counterpoint to her self-centered son, while allowing us to hold out hope for the impossible Henry to come around.

Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's immortal score receives a lush treatment from the 17-piece orchestra led by James Lowe.

Cameron Mackintosh and the National Theatre of Great Britain's production of My Fair Lady runs through April 6th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows

 

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