BWW Review: MY FAIR LADY In Time For Ascot At The Belmont
When the Duchess of Cambridge arrived for the first day of the Royal Ascot this year in her pale blue dress and hat, my first thought was that she looked as if she'd come straight out of the "Ascot Gavotte" scene in Lerner and Lowe's MY FAIR LADY. The comparison was easy to make, because a new production was on stage at The Belmont Theatre in York, For those who hear the show title and think "on no, it's high school musical time again," rest assured - nothing could be further from the truth. Rene Staub's production at The Belmont is no school project, but a fully realized version of the show that's only the slightest step away from professional.
It's normal to begin by praising the Eliza Doolittle of the show, and we'll do that right now: Lily Gorski is beautiful and couldn't hit an off note if she tried, and she's funny to boot; her "Just You Wait" is a thing of riotous humor, and her "Show Me" to Vinny Beck's cheerfully besotted Freddy couldn't ring out more perfectly.
So it's saying something that Belmont veteran Jeff Gilbert breezily proves that this is Henry Higgins' world; we all just live in it. While I admit that he didn't come to my mind first as the Higgins the Belmont might cast, he immediately proved that he owns this production as well as the character, while never stealing a scene. Rex Harrison's patter style of delivery isn't natural for most musical performers, and the songs were written specifically for Harrison to handle them, but Gilbert sounds natural there, just as he does when he berates his long-suffering mother (Mona Krevsky) or wagering against his friend Colonel Pickering (Thomas DiMaggio),
It would be unfair to pass over the finest character piece in the Lerner and Lowe arsenal: Drew Derreth couldn't be a more amusing Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's worthless and lackadaisical father. His "With a Little Bit of Luck" is positively transformative; not only is he the comic relief, but it proves that the show can't do without Doolittle's amoral and nearly criminal truths to balance the uplifting academic morals of Higgins and Pickering, Derreth is clear that Doolittle is the show's messy and embarrassing id that balances Higgins' enormous ego.
Aside from an excellent cast and magnificent costuming for the Ascot opening day scene, there's a set to be reckoned with; Joel Persing's creation of Higgins' drawing room and study would love you to wrap it up and move it as an addition to your house, and the second you see it, you know it must come home with you. Its library stairs and balconies are marvelously constructed, making Persing the go-to set carpenter if ever this area finally gets permission to put on THE SHOW THAT GOES WRONG or for the next time that NOISES OFF happens in the area.
This production of MY FAIR LADY is in main part the production that most other productions want to be. It's musically lush, delightfully cast, and visually exciting. Staub knows his way around a large show, and he's put that knowledge to excellent use here. In a go big or go home world, this production goes that one step bigger than everyone else, and it works neatly. This is the last production of the season for the Belmont, so catch it before the summer break starts.