BWW Review: MY FAIR LADY at Olney Theatre Center is Just Plain 'Loverly'
I recall with reverence the illustrated cover of the original cast album of MY FAIR LADY by the acclaimed caricaturist, the late Al Hirschfeld (who has a Broadway theater named in his honor). It featured the author of "Pygmalion" which MY FAIR LADY is based on, George Bernard Shaw, overlooking a cloud in heaven with puppet strings holding up the two lead characters in the show, Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, It's a true classic. So was the original cast which opened on Broadway in 1956 and starred Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison and later became a smash movie with Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in 1964. I recall having a reserved seat ticket for the film.
Until this production of MY FAIR LADY at the Olney Theatre Center I had never seen the show in person. What a treat this is!!!
Has anyone noticed how many successful musicals have been presented in the area recently that take place in London in the early 20th century? Three that I recall are MARY POPPINS, the amazing touring production of FINDING NEVERLAND (which just finished a successful run at the Hippodrome) and now MY FAIR LADY.
Thanks to the wonderful Direction by Alan Souza making his Olney Theatre Center debut, this MY FAIR LADY is extraordinary. Souza (who after this gig should be back directing at Olney) moves the setting of the musical from early 20th century to 1921 when women were protesting to have the right to vote and succeeding and began to wear "pants".
He also did a major change in casting a "Henry Higgins" who is young, handsome, virile, sexy, funny and a great dancer. Danny Bernardy is just plain superb in this role. It's 180 degrees away from Rex Harrison.
Playing his pupil Eliza who is a struggling flower girl is the sensual, smart, attractive Brittany Campbell who milks this iconic role with a stunning voice. In the program you will notice she has appeared in three operas with the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center. Her booming voice causes shivers down the spine.
The story involves how Higgins, a phonetics expert, meets Doolittle and has a problem with her accent. In a great scene, he can guess those in the flower market where they come from just by listening to them speak. While there he comes across another phonetics expert Col. Pickering (the talented Todd Scofield (who I remember so well in Olney's terrific play NEVILLE'S ISLAND) and he challenges Pickering to a wager that he can turn the "wench" into a respectable young woman and pass her off as a "duchess". Higgins sings the wonderful "Why Can't the English" learn to speak. Later he will perform "I'm and Ordinary Man" and "Hymn to Him".
When can one say about the melodious tune by the great team of Alan Jay Lerner (Book/Lyrics) and
Frederick Lowe (Music). After meeting Higgins, Eliza dreams of a future as a "Lady" with "Wouldn't It Be Loverly".
Eliza's father, Alfred D. Doolittle (the fabulous Chris Genebach who I remember so well in Olney's terrific CAROUSEL) is a booze-loving blue collar worker who has two great numbers: "With a Little Bit of Luck" and the favorite song "Get Me to the Church on Time". He's also quite the dancer.
Doesn't everyone know "The Rain in Spain" which the two professors sing with Eliza when she finally gets her accent down pat. What a great number with clever choreography by Grady McLeod Bowman, also making her Olney debut.
Higgins and Pickering give Eliza her first test of diction as they attend the Royal Ascot horse race which features incredible costumes by Pei Lee. I just loved the men's colorful spates matching their ties and the hats??? You got to see them to believe them.
I was amazed to hear the sound of the horse race. You can hear and think visually as the horses first gallop to stage right, then behind the audience and finally to stage left thanks to Sound Engineer Matt Rowe.
It was during the Ascot Race that a young handsome man , Fredy Eynsfor-Hill (the talented Benjamin Lurye) meets Eliza for the first time and is immediately stricken. He arrives at her home in a trance, hoping to see her and he takes over the stage with the lovely ballad "On the Street Where You Live" . Lurye nailed this number and received thunderous ovation. Look for his in the fall at Signature Theatre's A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC).
Playing dual roles as housekeeper Mrs. Pearce and Higgins' mother is the talented Valerie Leonard.
The entire eight member ensemble makes the evening so wonderful.
The Set Design by James Fouchard is very clever and I liked how he used the staircase into the orchestra pit to open up the stage.
At the end of the musical, Higgins relishes his success with Eliza and yet admits his infatuation with her with the lovely "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face". I will not give away the surprise ending.
Do not miss this incredible production.
MY FAIR LADY HAS BEEN EXTENDED to August 6, 2017. For tickets, call 301-924-3400 or visit www.OlneyTheatre.org.
THIS AND THAT
Following that is the Tony-winning musical IN THE HEIGHTS. Robin De Jesus will star. He played "Sony" in the original Broadway cast for which he garnered a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor in 2010.]
Just down the street is a play about another late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia entitled THE ORIGINALIST at the Arena Stage starring Edward Gero and directed by Molly Smith. It runs from July 7 to July 30.
Where else in the country can you see two plays about two Supreme Court Justices within weeks of each other??
I noticed the July 4th celebrations on television had some Broadway performers. The PBS broadcast from the Capital featured Laura Osnes and the cast of BANDSTAND while the Boston Pops Orchestra had Brian Stokes Mitchell who belted out "The Wheels of a Dream" from RAGTIME and did a world premiere number by Alan Mencken about diversity written just for the occasion. HAMILTON's Tony winner for Best Actor in a Musical, Leslie Odom, Jr. sang from the musical THE CIVIL WAR, RENT, and HAMILTON. Thank you Bloomberg Television for broadcasting this stunning event. New York's Macy's broadcast on NBC surprisingly featured no Broadway entertainment.
SPRING AWAKENING has opened at Baltimore's Spotlighters Theatre. I love this show. It runs until July 30.
If you missed the screening of the hit musical NEWSIES you are in luck. It returns to movie theaters for only two days, August 5 and 9. Visit www.fathomevents.com for a theater near you.
The Dundalk Community Theater is having auditions from July 15 to July 29 for the wonderful Jason Robert Brown musical THE BRIDGES OF MADISION COUNTY which garnered two Tony Awards. Make a note that this must see musical (directed by Todd Pearthree) will run from October 27-29 and Nov. 3-5.