BWW Review: MY FAIR LADY at Atlanta Lyric Theatre
In June, the New York Post reported that Colin Firth, who is rumored to have turned down the role of Henry Higgins in the upcoming, highly-anticipated 2018 Lincoln Center revival of My Fair Lady, might still be considering the role. Just a few days ago, they claimed that Lauren Ambrose could be our next Eliza Doolittle. These recent tidbits come on the heels of at least a dozen other Post articles over the last several years speculating on casting and direction for the slow-starting revival. And why does New York's love-to-hate chatterbox keep landing on My Fair Lady gossip? For the same reason we want to read it. It's a story that we can't get enough of. And why can't we get enough of it? Easy. We are obsessed with the familiar Pygmalion story: boy meets plain old girl, boy molds plain old girl into new-and-improved perfect girl, boy is fabulously happy. The thing that makes My Fair Lady a Pygmalion story that rises above its mythological predecessor, as well as many other pop culture retellings, is that the plain old girl in this one, once she is transformed into new-and-improved perfect girl, recognizes what she has lost in the bargain and actually holds the boy accountable for it. That's a good story. A relevant story. An important story. And Atlanta Lyric Theatre, in their current production under the direction of Scott Seidl, tells the story quite well. With an excellent cast, led by popular Atlanta actor Galen Crawley in her gorgeous turn as Eliza Doolittle, and some of the best music to hit the Atlanta stages this summer, the production is definitely one to celebrate.
The Lerner and Loewe tuner tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, who seeks out speech lessons from Henry Higgins, a bachelor and notable phoneticist, in hopes of improving her social station by securing a position as a lady in a flower shop. Higgins, eager to showcase his speech training skills to his friend, Colonel Pickering, takes on the new pupil, but he doesn't bargain on Eliza teaching him as much as he teaches her.
The biggest boasting right for this production belongs to the music under the direction of Paul Tate. There is no weak link among the players in this area. Every note is a sheer delight, and the choice to flank the stage with two pianos that provide the entirety of the show's accompaniment is an inspired one. The big voices, relieved of the challenges that a full orchestra presents, are shown to their best advantages.
The production also boasts some great acting. Galen Crawley is the jewel in the production's crown. She plays a Cockney flower girl exactly as convincingly as she does a refined lady of high society. And that doesn't happen very often. In addition, she brings an infectious energy and spunk to her role that stabilizes the performances around her. George Deavours as Alfred Doolittle, Karen Howell as Mrs. Higgins, and Chris Saltalamacchio in the role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill also deliver Great Performances. Rob Roper, returning to the stage after a 30-year hiatus, is excellent in the role of Colonel Pickering, so excellent, in fact, that Mark Bradley Miller in the role of Henry Higgins often finds himself dangerously close to being upstaged. Miller plays a very mild Higgins here, and that's a little problematic, both because it causes him to throw away a lot of jokes and because a number of his epiphanic moments never realize their full potential.
Any good discussion of the talent of this cast must include a mention of the ensemble work. This ensemble, most notably in the street scenes and the Ascot opening day scene, beautifully executes Ashley Chasteen's delightfully fresh choreography. In addition, they provide such gorgeous mise en scène that just their presence could have solved this production's biggest problem.
That biggest problem - and it is so often a problem for productions of My Fair Lady - is the set design. Lee Shiver-Cerone starts with a wonderful idea, those two aforementioned pianos flanking the stage. The pianos are housed inside large gazebos. Also wonderful. But those pianos in gazebos beg for attention, and because Shiver-Cerone never divorces himself fully from old, tired My Fair Lady scenic ideas that involve heavy backdrops and big wooden staircases, he gets into a jam. Nearly every stage picture that doesn't allow the pianos to be in their rightful place as focal points is blemished by the unwanted intrusion of...well... two pianos in gazebos.
On the whole, the Atlanta Lyric Theatre has put on a decidedly loverly production of My Fair Lady. If you want to hear those old familiar songs sung about as well as they can be sung, the Atlanta Lyric Theatre is the place to be this month.
My Fair Lady plays through September 3. For tickets and information, visit www.atlantalyrictheatre.com