Review: MY FAIR LADY at BASS CONCERT HALL

Performances now through December 10th

By: Dec. 08, 2023
Review: MY FAIR LADY at BASS CONCERT HALL

MY FAIR LADY rolled into town this week, treating Austin to a classic musical of old. And by “of old” I mean lavish costuming, soaring vocals, a beautiful choral ensemble and lush orchestrations performed by a full orchestra. What a treat! In case you missed it over the last 67 years, the musical tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, a phonetics professor, so that she might transform into a refined lady. The musical is based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play "Pygmalion," with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe

Lerner and Loewe began working on MY FAIR LADY in the early 1950's and MY FAIR LADY had its world premiere on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on March 15, 1956. Directed by Moss Hart, the original cast starred Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. The show was a massive critical and commercial success running on Broadway for over six years, with a total of 2,717 performances. It became one of the longest-running musicals of its time. The musical then opened in London's West End in 1958, starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. It was equally successful and ran for over five years. In 1964, a film adaptation of MY FAIR LADY was released, starring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison reprising his role as Professor Higgins. The film won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

The musical has been a staple in community and school productions, further cementing its place in the canon of musical theater classics, and this professional and lavish touring production gives us an opportunity to enjoy this revival of MY FAIR LADY at its apex of professionalism.

Director Bartlett Sher has in some part returned MY FAIR LADY to Shaw’s original intent as a satire on the social classes and offers an examination, if subtle, in feminism. Some things are new: a burlesque, vaudevillian version of “Get Me To The Church on Time,” Pickering is offered a charming and contemporary character development, Eliza enters into her transformation with an agency not seen in the original, and traditional gender roles are somewhat challenged. Still, without giving it away, MY FAIR LADY’s problematic conclusion seems… ambiguous. Nonetheless, the audience seemed to enjoy the show in general immensely. 

As one hopes and expects, Anette Barrios-Torres plays an independent Eliza, her soprano ringing beautifully in the Bass Concert Hall. Jonathan Grunert gives Higgins an energetic, boyish and naive quality that is required to keep Higgins from seeming an irredeemable character in the 21st century. Further, it’s refreshing to hear a Higgins actually sing, and sing well. The supporting cast is each a delight, particularly, John Adkison as Pickering, perfect tenor Nathan Haltiwanger as the star-crossed Freddy, and the “Loverly Quartet.”

Still, there remains the question of whether Eliza becomes her own hero in the face of obstacles and language that landed as abusive to my contemporary ear. Despite the understanding that George Bernard Shaw's Eliza strikes out on her own, Sher offers in his direction an ending that remains unclear. I won't spoil it here in case your mileage varies from mine. Nevertheless, catching this production of MY FAIR LADY is worth it - if for nothing else as a fine example of quality musical theatre. Taken in this context, it’s also an excellent exploration of character and class, performed by a quite talented and well rounded cast.

MY FAIR LADY

Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

Music by Frederick Lowe

Directed by Bartlett Sher

Dec 5 – 10, Performances at 

Bass Concert Hall

2350 Robert Dedman Dr




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