Review: MY FAIR LADY The Licoln Center Theater Production at Proctors

A Delightful Classic With Some Surprises.

Photos: First Look At The Cast of FOOTLOOSE At Fort Salem Theater
Shavey Brown, Mark Aldrich, Shereen Ahmed,
William Michals, Colin Anderson
Photo by Joan Marcus

Chances are good that visitors of this site are quite familiar with MY FAIR LADY the musical based on George Bernard Shaw's play PYGMALLION, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliz Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, a phonetician, so that she may pass as a lady. Despite his cynical nature and difficulty understanding women, Higgins falls in love with her.

The musical's original 1956 Broadway production was a notable critical and popular success, receiving six Tony Awards including Best Musical. The show set a record as the longest run of any musical on Broadway up to that time and became a hit London's West End as well. Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews starred in both productions as well as the 1964 film version which received the Academy Award for Best Picture. Countless revivals and productions by every form of theatrical company imaginable have ensued.

Photos: First Look At The Cast of FOOTLOOSE At Fort Salem Theater
Laird Macintosh, Gayton Scott, Adam Grupper,
Kevin Pariseau, Shereen Ahmed
Photo by Joan Marcus

As the production's opening night at Proctor's approached, I anticipated a night of classic Musical Theatre that would undoubtedly prove to be (borrowing from one the show's many familiar songs) "loverly". This tour of The Lincoln Center Theatre Production also suggested to me that the evening would be filled with first-class vocal talent. Not surprisingly both thoughts were proved correct. That said, the night was filled with surprises as well.

Directed by Bartlett Sher the production remains true to the original, but some updates have been made including some refreshing of the book and dialogue some of which shine a brighter light on the equality of the sexes despite social norms of the time. Much of which was notably popular with the audience. Sets by Michael Yeargen are particularly noteworthy, Turntables are incorporated to achieve multiple looks and venues that are quite impressive, particularly for a trucked touring show. At times, however the performers seemed to be a bit cramped. To be fair, this may have been due to four of the principal roles being played by understudies including Sarah Quinn Taylor as Eliza Doolittle, Wade McCollum as Henry Higgins, Patrick Kerr as Colonel Pickering, and George Psomas as Freddie Eynsford-Hill. In all, ten replacements were listed at this performance. Although to the critical eye / ear this was something a bit flat with respect to timing and energy, the 3-hour production was polished and highly professional. The changes may also have allowed some with supporting roles the chance to shine as was the case with Mrs. Higgins (Henry's Mother) played by Leslie Alexander; and Mrs. Pearce (his housekeeper) played by Gayton Scott. Both seemed very familiar with, and comfortable in their characters.

One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the evening was Wade McCollum's performance as Henry Higgins. Typically presented as dry, aloof, and bombastic, McCollun's Higgins has a far more youthful presence, a joie de vivre, almost playboy like quality. I can not say if this was due to McCollum, the direction from Bartlett Sher, the changes to the script or some combination of the above. I can tell you that despite the character of Higgins' overwhelmingly unlikeable personality (or lack thereof) it works. McCollum's Henry is charming, dashing, and downright likeable when he isn't being a rather self-absorbed, pompous intellectual.

Costumes by Catherine Zuber are gorgeous as was the eight-piece orchestra under the musical supervision of Ted Sperling.

While no official word was given for the number of replacements in Tuesday night's opening performance, Wednesday's performance was cancelled citing breakthrough cases of Covid among the crew. The run is scheduled to continue at Proctors in Schenectady through May 22.

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