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Review: A Sumptuous MY FAIR LADY at Shea's Buffalo

A Flower Girl Does Exceedingly Well

Review: A Sumptuous MY FAIR LADY at Shea's Buffalo

How to turn a classic play into a classic musical? Find the best of the best, of course. But even the powerhouse duo of Rodger's and Hammerstein couldn't figure out to to turn George Bernard Shaw's comic masterpiece PYGMALION into a musical. They attempted but ultimately passed. Happily another talented pair, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, decided to take a stab, and the result was the brilliant MY FAIR LADY. Beloved by many thanks to an Academy Award winning motion picture, the most recent Broadway revival at Lincoln Center has landed on the Shea's Buffalo stage and the sumptuous production is a knockout.

Inarguably. Shaw's most recognized play oozes charm and social commentary as the linguistic Professor Henry Higgins swoops up the common flower girl Eliza quite literally out of the gutter and makes it his quest to transform her into a princess. Shaw holds no prisoners is his misogynistic portrayal of the pompous Higgins, incapable of eliciting any emotions of concern for the opposite sex. The lyrics and book by Lerner hold tight to Shaw's original text, while Lerner has created unforgettable melodies in hits like "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," and "On The Street Where You Lived."

Director Bartlett Sher has a long history of breathing new life into classic musicals at The Lincoln Center Theater. His first triumph being SOUTH PACIFIC, followed by THE KING AND I. His keen eye allows Shaw's text text to shine, never playing second fiddle to the music or spectacle. And oh, what a spectacle we have here in Michael Yeargan's glamorous set, with a nod to the original designs of Oliver Smith. An enormous turntable spins and retracts to display multiple rooms and stairways in Higgins' home, while picture perfect backdrops and set pieces spin and glide about the stage. Opening night in Buffalo was riddled with some sound problems followed by technical issues with the set that caused a short break in the action. It was remedied a few minutes later by the stagehands and all was forgiven once the action restarted.

The unlikely yet suggested romance between Higgins and Eliza is tantamount to any production, and Sher makes it clear with subtle glances and exchanges early on that there is some sexual energy between the two. Laird Mackintosh is a younger than usual appearing Higgins, which works perfectly. Mackintosh has put his own spin on the role so often associated with it's originator, Rex Harrison. Most of Higgins songs are usually sing-spoken, but Mr Mackintosh has a lilting singing voice that melds perfectly with his speaking voice. His own transition from bombastic teacher to lovelorn bachelor is paced perfectly, all the while making the audience love to hate him. He insults womanhood in "I'm An Ordinary Man," which if written today, would be fully rejected for it's condemnation of all things female. Later in "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" there is a hint of melancholy that Mackintosh breathes into this soliloquy of what if......

Shereen Ahmed shines throughout as the cockney flowergirl. She screeches delightfully as Higgins puts her through her paces, re-learning vowels and adopting genteel mannerisms. Ms. Ahmed employs a lovely lyric soprano singing voice and her literal transformation is breathtaking. When she breaks through in "The Rain In Spain," it is obvious we have witnessed the change from ugly duckling to swan. Ahmed lands plenty of laughs in the restrained scene at Ascot, then oozes glamour in costumes designer Catherine Zuber's stunning gowns for the Embassy Ball.

Leslie Alexander was imperious, yet loving as Mrs. Higgins. She provides a civility to life that her son never could, guiding Eliza throughout.

Later in Act II, Ahmed and Mackintosh do some of their finest work in their confrontation at Mrs. Higgins' Conservatory. Eliza has achieved Higgins' goal of becoming a lady, but where she is left to go is a mystery, The two battle with words that would have been unspeakable to Eliza in her prior life. Just when Higgins shows the slightest bit of compassion, he blurts condescendingly, and Eliza retorts with grace and eloquence. The scene was riveting, capped with Mrs Higgins' brilliant proclamation, "BRAVO, ELIZA!"

Kevin Pariseau is charming at Colonel Pickering, the male sidekick to Higgins and his venture. Fisher's comic timing is perfection, with a hint of daffiness. Sam Simahk sings with fine voice as the smitten suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill. His youthful lovesick nature is a fine contrast to Higgins' aloofness.

Martin Fisher is Eliza's father. Alfred P. Doolittle. Shaw has created such a rich character in this blustery street dustman, educated beyond his station on the topic of social morality. Fisher's booming bass singing voice and large persona often were at odds with this complicated, yet likeable fellow. Fisher never seemed fully at ease with the busy dancing required in the showstopper "Get Me to the Church on Time."

The large ensemble played multiple small roles throughout, and shone, looking resplendent in their elegant finery singing the "Ascot Gavotte." Choreographer Christopher Gattelli created lovely ballroom dances at the Embassy, and raucous music hall kicklines, complete with men in drag.

Review: A Sumptuous MY FAIR LADY at Shea's Buffalo

Audiences have often pondered the ending of the story.. Does Eliza stay with Higgins or leave? Shaw's final line is ambiguity at it's best, but it appears in this production Eliza leaves, while Higgins chortles to himself. Has this ego-centric teacher patted himself on the back because he has created a fully fleshed out woman with grace, emotions and a brain, or is he simply laughing because she has left and will fail without him? I think it is the former, so "BRAVO, ELIZA!"

MY FAIR LADY plays at Shea's Buffalo Theatre through March 6, 2022. Contact for more information

From This Author - Michael Rabice

Michael Rabice has over  40 years of experience attending plays, musicals and opera all over the world. He is a frequent performer in opera and has appeared with the Glimmerglass Opera, Artpark... (read more about this author)

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