REVIEW: My Fair Lady (Marriott Theatre)

Marriott’s ‘My Fair Lady’ loverly, but risk-free

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza (with flowers)

Marriott Theatre presents:

My Fair Lady

By Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
Directed by
Dominic Missimi
Through February 14th, 2010 (
ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The story of linguistics professor Henry Higgins and the Cockney girl he transforms into a lady may well be the most beloved and best-known musical of all time. Based upon George Bernard Shaw‘s Pygmalion, its original Broadway production in 1956 ran for 2,717 performances and won six Tony Awards. The 1964 film based on the musical won eight Oscars. The musical has had three major Broadway revivals, and a 2001 British production toured both the United Kingdom and the U.S. and won three Olivier Awards. Columbia Pictures has announced an upcoming movie remake.

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza vertical You’ve surely seen some version of this musical — if not a professional show, then a high-school or college production or the film. Just listing its popular songs — "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?" "With a Little Bit of Luck," "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Get Me to the Church on Time" — will set the tunes ringing through your head. Audiences are hard pressed to keep from singing along.

If you’re one of the lovers, then all I really need to tell you is that Marriott Theatre has produced an exuberant, picture-perfect production of My Fair Lady. Nothing about this show will mar your vision of the musical — from Kevin Gudahl channeling Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins to Nancy Missimi‘s gorgeous Edwardian costumes to Matt Raftery‘s jolly choreography.

If you’re not already an ardent fan, though, nothing about Marriott’s version will challenge your perspective. Dominic Missimi‘s direction breaks no new ground whatsoever. This is "comfort theater" at its safest.

The songs are all beautifully sung, the orchestra is first-rate and the acting never misses. The in-the-round staging works surprisingly well (though I held my breath every time the cast schlepped the office furnishings on and off the stage in the dark).

The cast and ensemble — as one expects from Marriott — do everything right. Heidi Kettenring brings verve to her part as Eliza Doolittle, particularly in her "unreformed" Cockney scenes, making Gudahl’s Higgins seem especially like a stuffed fish. Don Forston makes a feisty Alfred Doolittle (our heroine’s opportunistic father) and Catherine Lord an especially expressive Mrs. Pearce (Prof. Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper); her Scottish accent is a nice touch. David Lively gives a stiff upper lip to Colonel Pickering while Ann Whitney brings dry wit to Higgins’ mother.

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring and Ann Whitney

Max Quinlan, as Eliza’s yearning suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, gives full measure to "On the Street Where You Live," and George Keating, Brandon Koller, Christian Libonati and Joseph Tokarz are a cheeky Cockney quartet.

The scene at Ascot, when Eliza is first revealed to the upper crust, is particularly delightful, thanks mainly to some amazing hats and staging that gives them all the display they deserve. Apart from that, though, and the intrinsic worth of live performance over recorded media, you might just as well rent the video.

I found myself thinking of all the things a theater company might do with this brilliant but hoary old musical to shake it up. While it’s probably going too far to set the show in the Loop and give Eliza a Bridgeport accent, a production, however beautiful, that merely follows where others have gone before, forms a sadly lost opportunity. Marriott’s My Fair Lady feels as if it’s set in aspic.

Rating: ★★★½

Note: Dinner packages available.

MY FAIR LADY--Heidi Kettenring as Eliza & Kevin Gudahl as Higgins

Review: Light Opera Work’s "My Fair Lady"

My Fair Lady 

Light Opera Works presents

My Fair Lady
based on George Bernard Shaw‘s Pygmalion
book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe
through Sunday, August 30th (buy tickets)

One of the crown jewels of Broadway’s Golden Age of Musicals, My Fair Lady, from its original Tony Award-winning production, to its best-selling cast album, to its Best Picture-winning film, may well be the best-known and most often produced entry in the musical theatre canon. And it has all of the hallmarks of its genre: the gorgeous melodies, the comic show stoppers, the happy ending… Since 1956, everything about My Fair Lady has been inescapable, as warm and familiar as Higgins’ slippers.

3439Fc Which is precisely what Light Opera Works is serving up at Northwestern’s Cahn Auditorium (map) in Evanston. From the musical phrasing to the Cecil Beaton Ascot costumes, everything is as we remember it. There are no surprises – good or bad – and whether you consider that a blessing or a curse will determine how you respond to this My Fair Lady.

The performers have without exception strong voices and portray convincing enough characters, within the somewhat tradition-bound scope of their roles. Natalie Ford‘s Eliza is, by turns, plucky, elegant, and determined, and her “I Could Have Danced All Night” was, as it usually is, a  tour de force. Cary Lovett, as Liza’s father Alfred, and Jeff MacMullen, as erstwhile suitor Freddy, deliver their equally-well-known music hall-style and pining young lover turns with all requisite charm – and, in Mr. MacMullen’s case, with a soaring tenor voice that breathes real life into “On the Street Where You Live.” In a smaller, non-singing role, Jo Ann Minds brings a brittle wit to her portrayal of Higgins’ mother that would make Dame Judi Dench quite proud.

3439Fa Nick Sandys, as Professor Henry Higgins, is bit less successful – if by “success” we mean simply delivering a fascimile of what we’ve seen before. Sandys is younger – significantly younger, it would appear – than Rex Harrison in this part. His aristocratic good looks make Eliza’s attraction to him much easier to see, and throw his relationship with his mother into much sharper focus. Sandys is quicker, and brighter, as Higgins, his mind always at work; it is easy to understand this Professor not seeing the love blooming before his very eyes.

In the end, as the chorus of “I Could Have Danced All Night” swells through the full orchestra’s strings, and Liza goes to fetch Higgins’ slippers, we get from this My Fair Lady exactly what Light Opera Works promised. If you’re in the mood for a faithful recreation of a familiar musical classic, My Fair Lady will be performed through August 30th.

Rating: «««

 

Read more about the show after the fold.

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