Oh! The Towering Feeling! 'My Fair Lady' at Opera House
My Fair Lady
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe
Director, Trevor Nunn; Choreography and Musical Staging, Matthew Bourne; Scenic and Costume Designer, Anthony Ward; Sound Designer, Paul Groothuis; Lighting Designer, David Hersey
Christopher Cazenove, Professor Henry Higgins; Lisa O'Hare, Eliza Doolittle; Tim Jerome, Alfred P. Doolittle; Walter Charles, Colonel Hugh Pickering; Marni Nixon, Mrs. Higgins; Barbara Marineau, Mrs. Pearce; Justin Bohon, Freddy Eynsford-Hill
Performances through February 17, 2008 at The Opera House; purchase tickets at Colonial Theatre Box Office (106 Boylston St.), The Opera House Box Office (539 Washington St.), Ticketmaster 617-931-2787 or www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com
The original production of My Fair Lady opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York on March 15, 1956 and ran for 2,717 performances. It won eight Tony awards, including Best Musical and remains one of the top fifteen longest-running Broadway musicals of all time. Thanks to Cameron Mackintosh and The National Theatre of Great Britain, Lerner and Loewe's precious masterpiece is now at The Opera House in Boston to be appreciated by another generation of theatre lovers.
Fifty years later, the bloom is most assuredly not off the rose in this incarnation which won five Laurence Olivier Awards for the West End production in 2001. With the original U.K. artistic team in place, it is not so much a revival as a reimagining, as everything seems crisper and clearer, like the difference between regular and HD-TV. The Pygmalion story is unchanged, but Director Trevor Nunn makes some interesting choices to alter the angles just a bit, including moving the time period from 1914 to 1910 following the death of the monarch King Edward VII, as well as weaving in the Women's Suffrage Movement as backdrop to Eliza Doolittle's burgeoning independence.
The brightest light in this glittery cast is Lisa O'Hare as Eliza, the flower-selling street girl who is molded into a fine lady by Professor Henry Higgins. As she intoned the first notes of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" I melted into my seat and resolved to help her find a room far away from the cold night air with an enormous chair and lots of chocolates if it's the last thing I do. Even with the Cockney accent, she has an angelic voice that lilts in the sweet songs and shows its strength and timbre in the livelier tunes. She moves about the stage with energy or grace as called for and trips the light fantastic fantastically with Professor Higgins at the Embassy Ball. While following in the footsteps of Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn, O'Hare does not breed comparison as she creates her own Eliza with equal measures of spunk and charm and a fiery determination to make her way in a world where she does not fit the mold.
Christopher Cazenove is a wonderful Henry Higgins, conveying his air of superiority from the moment he takes the stage and discovers Eliza amid the Costermongers at Covent Garden. He wraps himself in the cloak of Henry's narcissism and behaves as if the world revolves around him. Yet his interpretation shows a hint of insecurity underlying the bluster and apparent coldness, implying that Higgins is more a socially inept Mummy's boy who is unable to connect and afraid to commit than a misogynist who is above it all ("I'd be equally as willing for a dentist to be drilling than to ever let a woman in my life "). Cazenove does a fair amount of talk-singing à la Rex Harrison, but has a pleasant sound and sells each song with his dynamic delivery.