BWW Review: MY FAIR LADY thrills at Orpheum Theatre
My Fair Lady, playing at the Orpheum Theatre through March 8th, is a gorgeous revival that will thrill fans of the classic movie as well as theater purists. With familiar songs, beautiful Tony Award-winning costumes and detailed, period-inspired sets, the new production has everything you could want in a Broadway showstopper.
The original production of My Fair Lady opened on Broadway in 1956 and was adapted from George Bernard Shaw's famous play Pygmalion. It tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a lower-class commoner who happens to cross paths with a celebrated linguistics professor while trying to sell flowers outside of a theater. Professor Henry Higgins and his cohort Colonel Pickering decide to wager a friendly bet to see if Higgins can transform Eliza from a "piece of baggage" to a "proper lady" through phonetics training. The show takes Eliza (and Higgins, although he doesn't realize it) on a journey of enlightenment and growth. Eliza finds her value and worth along the way, and Higgins discovers that he may not know as much as he thinks when it comes to human relationships.
The Lincoln Center Revival of My Fair Lady is directed by Bartlett Sher and was nominated for ten Tony Awards. The show moves along at a steady pace, utilizing a rotating stage to showcase Higgins' elite bachelor pad. It is really quite extraordinary as it turns to show his study, entranceway and even a small courtyard. Set Designer Michael Yeargan had been enthralled with My Fair Lady since he was a child and had been taking meticulous notes for years, on the off chance he might someday get to design the set. His research paid off in a set that is able to bring to life two very different worlds, namely upper and lower class London in the early 1910's.
Costume designer Catherine Zuber won a Tony for My Fair Lady, and it is easy to see why in her beautiful designs. Her pieces for the Ascot Race and the Embassy Ball are particularly gorgeous. When Eliza comes out dressed for the ball in a gown that literally sparkles non-stop (due to some amazing lighting design by Donald Holder), the audience gasped at her loveliness.
To anyone who has seen the Academy Award winning movie version of My Fair Lady, each song is a joy to revisit in a live performance. Shereen Ahmed as Eliza has a "loverly" Soprano voice that does great justice to "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "Without You." She imbues Eliza with longing for a better life and frustration when her new life is not exactly what she imagined it would be. Adam Grupper as Eliza's father Alfred P. Doolittle is a magnetic performer that commands the stage every time he appears. The showstopper "Get Me to the Church on Time" with Grupper at the center is a raucous, joyful number that brings the house down.
While the show is a bit long (the first act is an hour and thirty minutes) and begins to drag in the second act, anyone who is a fan of My Fair Lady will enjoy this production. It is a truly family-friendly show that can be a good entry point for younger theater enthusiasts (but maybe brush up on your Cockney, as it took myself and my date (my 10-year old son) a while to be able to understand the actors' dialogue).
Classic shows such as My Fair Lady make for a wholesome evening out full of wonderful music, dancing and design. As a fan of the movie version, which I have watched over and over for many years, I was happy to finally be able to see a production of this show on the stage. Movies are great, but there is nothing like a live performance to bring a story to life. The vibrancy of live theater gives My Fair Lady an energy and immediacy the movie lacks. If you have the opportunity to see this show while it is playing here in Minneapolis, you will not be disappointed.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus