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Review: MY FAIR LADY Ignites Nostalgia at Cadillac Palace Theatre

Review: MY FAIR LADY Ignites Nostalgia at Cadillac Palace Theatre

Though My Fair Lady challenges us to examine our own privilege, it is a welcome trip down memory lane for those who love the classic film and the timeless score.

 

If you could change your life by participating in an experiment, would you do it? That's exactly the decision Eliza Doolittle must make as she is plucked from obscurity and scrutinized by an esteemed linguist in My Fair Lady. Based exclusively on the plot of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and made famous by the film starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, this intellectual musical explores important topics of class, privilege, and what really happens when you get what you want. Though this show at Chicago's Cadillac Palace brings to life time-honored classics from a sweeping soundtrack such as I Could Have Danced All Night and On the Street Where You Live, its three-hour runtime and dialogue-heavy script can make it a challenging watch for some viewers.

After a clunky opening scene full of rapid-fire dialogue, Shereen Ahmed as Eliza Doolittle rescues the audience with Wouldn't It Be Loverly. "Angelic" does not do Ms. Ahmed's voice justice. Seldom has a performer brought tears to my eyes not based on the subject matter of the song, but purely on their exquisite vocal quality and performance. Ahmed delivers a beautiful and nuanced transformation of Eliza's character over the course of the evening.

Review: MY FAIR LADY Ignites Nostalgia at Cadillac Palace Theatre If we thought Elizabeth's cockney was difficult to understand, her father Alfred's is on a whole different playing field. Martin Fisher's inscrutable rendition of With a Little Bit of Luck is lighthearted but takes a great deal of concentration to decipher the lyrics. As Eliza and her father "progress" in the eyes of society- Eliza with education and a new wardrobe, and her father with wealth- they see the double-edged sword of their new lives. Eliza realizes that she has outgrown her old life as she asks, "What's to Become of Me?" Her father in turn sees that wealth comes with strings attached, and that "middle class morality" demands he give up his former lifestyle- a fact that he bemoans in the showstopping Get Me to the Church on Time. This bacchanalian number features showgirls (and guys!) galore, a roaring ensemble, and all the glitz and glamour you could expect in the most epic of last hurrahs- an excellent contrast to the show's mostly thoughtful and emotional numbers.

Setting both these journeys in motion is Professor Higgins, played by a spirited Laird Mackintosh. Not for the faint of heart, this is a role that requires exquisite elocution and precision- and Mackintosh delivers. Though the Professor is an unabashed snob, misogynist, and self-proclaimed permanent bachelor, Mackintosh is able to bring some amount of humanity to this character in I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face. Ahmed and Mackintosh's stage chemistry is a treat to experience, as they prove to be equal matches for each other when it comes to verbal sparring. The question of will-they-or-won't they swirls around them all throughout the show, as a disappointing combination of pride and rigidity perpetually gets in the way.

A gentler foil to the aggressive Professor, Colonel Pickering (Kevin Pariseau) plays the peacekeeper between Pickering and Eliza, an affable smile ever-present on this easygoing character's face. The household quartet was made complete by the stern but kind Mrs. Pearce, brought to us by Grayton Scott (whose Scottish brogue is a welcome addition to the medley of accents and dialects featured throughout). Higgins, Pickering, and Scott lead a spirited You Did It, celebrating passing off Eliza as a lady in society- and juxtaposing Eliza's bereft demeanor now that she feels she's been used and cast aside.

The stunning set for this show features an impressive house-on-a-swivel for the home of Professor Higgins. The central portion featured the two-story study, and when spun around reveals other rooms in the Higgins household, an ingenious and creative use of space. The costumes for My Fair Lady are sublime and perfectly fit the 1912 London aesthetic, Eliza's breathtaking Embassy Ball gown as the crown jewel (though she may have been wearing some of those around her neck)! Director Bartlett Sher manages a dizzying array of principal characters, ensemble, location, and class divide with meticulous attention to detail; each and every scene had excellent timing and flawless transitions.

Eliza's bittersweet transformation reminds us that no meaningful change happens without sacrifice. She expands her options by pushing herself, while Professor Higgins narrows his by refusing to change. Though My Fair Lady challenges us to examine our own privilege, it is a welcome trip down memory lane for those who love the classic film and the timeless score.

My Fair Lady runs through July 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at the Broadway in Chicago website.

 




From This Author - Kathleen Anwar

Kathleen Anwar graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in government and a minor in computer science. During her time there, she performed in the Annual Madrigal Dinner (now in its... (read more about this author)


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