Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
MY FAIR LADY REVIVAL
Click Here for More Articles on MY FAIR LADY REVIVAL

BWW Review: MY FAIR LADY National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center

I was left smiling from beginning to end.

BWW Review: MY FAIR LADY National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center

Based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion, My Fair Lady is set in London in the year 1912. The story follows a strong willed flower girl named Eliza Doolittle. She sells to any and all comers, even the wealthy elite amongst who always ignore her for her social status and thick Cockney accent, either of which are a hurdle, both of which mean she's in for a hard life of poverty. Though as chance would have it, she runs into phonetics professor Henry Higgins, who is gifted with a knowledge for patterns of speech that he can pinpoint anyone's place of origin to within a few miles. Eliza overhears him boasting that he can turn any old peasant with a go-nowhere accent into a proper socialite and accepted member of high society in six months. So she tracks him down and begs him to improve upon her native tongue so she could land a career in a real flower shop. Meanwhile, wealthy nobleman and noted phonetician, Colonel Hugh Pickering, makes a wager with Higgins, challenging him to turn Eliza into a first-class fair lady who will be accepted amongst the elite based strictly on her use of the English language.

The original production opened on March 15th, 1956 at the (now closed) Mark Hellinger Theatre on Broadway. The cast was led by a then 20-year-old Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. The production went on to win 6 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) the following year and ran for 2,717 performances after closing on September 29th, 1962. In 1964, Warner Brothers brought My Fair Lady to the big screen with a film adaptation directed by George Cukor with Rex Harrison reprising his role as Henry Higgins while Audrey Hepburn replaced Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle. The movie ended up winning 8 Academy Awards (including Best Picture), with Harrison becoming one of 11 performers to have won a Tony and an Oscar for the same role. While Hepburn was overlooked for a Best Actress nomination, the Oscar ironically ended up going to Julie Andrews for her motion picture debut as Mary Poppins. In the years since, My Fair Lady has been performed all over the world through high schools, community, and regional theatres, as well as receiving four Broadway revivals (the most recent of which from 2018 serves as the basis for this touring production).

Prior to the revival beginning performances at Lincoln Center Theater in New York, the #MeToo and Time's Up movements had already gotten into full swing. So there was a question of how a number of people were going to respond to a musical about a man 'making' a woman nowadays. Thankfully, director Bartlett Sher approaches the material with more modern sensibilities without making any major alterations to it. Thematically, the musical is approached more as a story about a woman wanting to reinvent herself while finding her true strength and confidence along the way. Not to mention that for a show that is almost three hours long, Bart keeps it running at such a great pace. The staging of the big musical numbers not only provides some terrific choreography by Christopher Gattelli (especially in the Act II showstopper, 'Get Me to the Church on Time'), but even the staging of the solos matches the emotions of the songs themselves.

Alan Jay Lerner's book does a great job of balancing out the troubled relationship between Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, giving the audience both of their individual perspectives throughout the show. Shereen Ahmed has been starring as Eliza in the tour, but she was out for the performance I attended. So her understudy, Nicole Ferguson, went on, and I thought she did a pitch perfect job in the role. From the moment she makes her first entrance near the end of the overture, the audience is right by her side as she goes on one of the best character arcs ever written for any story. Before the song, 'The Rain in Spain,' begins in the middle of Act I, applause comes in when she finally nails the sentence, "The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain." Did I mention that she also provides some great humorous moments? Laird Mackintosh gives such a complex performance as Higgins. He mistreats Eliza by making her struggle with a lot of the lessons she doesn't even wanna do throughout the first act. Yet by the time he performs 'I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face' near the end of the show, that is when the audience officially sympathizes with him. Plus without giving anything away, the final scene between Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins is staged in such a smart and effective manner.

Martin Fisher is perfectly bombastic as Eliza's boisterous father, Alfred P. Doolittle, who also has an arc of his own. In Act I, we meet him as this drunken man, though in Act II, he shares quite a heartfelt scene with his daughter. Sam Simahk is wonderfully enthusiastic as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a young, upper class British man who falls in love with Eliza. His rendition of 'On the Street Where You Live' is definitely a highlight. Henry's mother Mrs. Higgins may not have a whole lot to do in the musical, but Leslie Alexander does provide some strong scene work in all of her appearances.

Visually, everything looks very stunning from Donald Holder's elegant lighting to Catherine Zuber's incredible costumes. Though Michael Yeargan's scenery in particular is inventive. There are quite a few painted backdrops as well as an elaborate set piece that consists of interiors of Henry Higgins' house that spins on a turntable. Everyone in the cast and in the orchestra absolutely does the classic score by Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe justice. If you've seen My Fair Lady before, you're really going to appreciate how this production handles the material for today. Though if you've never seen it before, this staging should be a great introduction to such a beloved classic. Either way, audiences should have a 'loverly' time.


The national tour is currently playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center through May 8th. For more information, please visit:
https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/my-fair-lady
https://www.myfairladyontour.com/#



Related Articles


From This Author - Jeffrey Kare