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: Mid-Winter’s Tales ‘09 (ShawChicago)

Unwrap This Holiday Present NOW!

 

ShawChicago presents

Mid-Winter’s Tales 09

At the Ruth Page Theatre (1016 N. Dearborn)
Adapted and directed by Belinda Bremner

December 18th-21st (ticket info: 312-587-7390) 

By Katy Walsh

Before the age of electronic entertainment, communities gathered around the fireplace to tell stories. With the wind howling outside and increased hours of darkness, families told tales to amuse themselves and brighten the long nights of winter. ShawChicago presents Mid-Winter’s Tales 09, a collection of multi-generational stories and songs. Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 mixes it up with a variety of author samplings from a W.B. Yeats’ poem followed by a column snippet from Chicago’s own Mike Royko to, of course, words of wisdom from George Bernard Shaw. Although the show celebrates the winter solstice with cultural representation leaning in an English direction, it balances out the traditional Christmas fruitcake focus with a double helping of lakes (pronounced la keys).

With the aid of DVDs to set the holiday mood, I’ve memorized many lines from the retelling of stories, like; “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Christmas in Connecticut.” To my delight, Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 shares an unfamiliar collection of holiday stories. “The Wise Men of Chelm and the Miracle Lakes” is a stone soup rofendition about potato pancakes entertainingly led by ensemble member John Francisco. Mary Michell is hilarious in corresponding with her true love and his clever gift-giving in “Not Another Partridge in a Pear Tree.” Living in the generation of holiday gluttony, the moments that melt icicle-hearts are the recalling of children’s holidays in “Hilda Sutt Polchek Remembers Christmas at the Hull House” and “Scarlett Ribbons.

Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 is performed on a bare stage with guitar (Rachel Schiff) and violin (Blake Hackler) accompaniment. This strings-only music adds an undertone of sad winter quiet – that at times the amplified music competes with the non-miked cast. The actors are a talented band of storytellers. In the dreary winter evening, without a Christmas tree and a menorah to look at, the audience focuses on the actors’ facial expressions and their words. Spoiled lately from the grandeur of big musical productions, it’s hard to adjust to the sparse stage. Because Mid-Winter’s Tales 09 represents simpler times of storytelling, the plainness has an authentic and intimate quality.

Although an exploration of multi-religious representation of winter solstice could prove to be even more interesting, this 2009 focus on Jewish folklore promotes both understanding of its traditions and strong cravings for lakes (even though and I don’t like potatoes!).

 

Rating: ★★★

 

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Wednesday wordplay – Margaret Cho and George Bernard Shaw

(Mostly) inspirational quotes

 

Success is meaningless if you can’t sleep at night because of harsh things said, petty secrets sharpened against hard and stony regret, just waiting to be plunged into the soft underbelly of a ‘friendship.’
            — Margaret Cho, Margaret Cho’s Weblog, 04-12-2006

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
            — George Bernard Shaw

You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.
            — Evan Esar

Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.
            — Eugene Delacroix

A dog is the greatest gift a parent can give a child. OK, a good education, then a dog.
            — John Grogan, An Interview with John Grogan, 2008

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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Writers’ Theatre announces 2008/09 season

Writer’s Theatre 2008/09 Season

Nixon’s Nixon

By Russell Lees

Directed by Michael Halberstam

Featuring William Brown and Larry Yando

Just in time for the elections, we bring back our critically acclaimed, award-winning production of Nixon’s Nixon. This box office record-breaking production returns to our most intimate theatre for a limited engagement. Artistic Director Michael Halberstam will once again direct William Brown and Larry Yando as they reprise their tour-de-force performances as Kissinger and Nixon in this thrilling, hilarious and brilliantly imagined story of what might have happened in the Lincoln sitting room the night before Nixon resigned.

September 16 – November 16, 2008

 

 

Picnic

By William Inge

Directed by David Cromer

When a charismatic young drifter arrives in a small Kansas town on the eve of a Labor Day picnic, the simmering repressions of its residents come rapidly to a boil. Frequently hilarious and profoundly mo ing, Inge’s masterpiece chronicles the hopes and despairs that lie between the realization of adulthood and the eternal optimism of youth. This American classic is staged by Chicago’s own David Cromer, whose previous work for Writers’ Theatre includes The Price and Booth, and whose highly acclaimed production of The Adding Machine is enjoying a successful run in New York.

September 16 – November 16, 2008

 

 

The Maids

By Jean Genet

Translated by Martin Crimp

Directed by Jimmy McDermott

When the mistress is away, the maids will play. Two women in service to a younger socialite pass the moments of their day in play-acting and fantasy. As the line between fantasy and reality begins to disintegrate, their games take a deadly turn. Jealousy, resentment, sexual tension and murder converge in this 1947 classic French thriller. Jimmy McDermott, one of the city’s most exciting young directors, brings his trademark edginess to this seminally rebellious play.

November 18 , 2008 – April 5, 2009

 

 

A Christmas Carol

By Charles Dickens

Adapted & Performed by Michael Halberstam

Artistic Director Michael Halberstam masterfully recreates the greatest ghost story ever written with his tour-de-force solo performance of Ebenzer Scrooge’s journey over the course of one magical Christmas Eve. Now in its 13th season, this holiday tradition has been extended to nine performances after last year’s sold-out run.

December 13 – 23, 2008

 

 

 

 

World Premiere!!

Old Glory

By Brett Neveu

Directed by William Brown

William Brown, director of last season’s triumphant As You Like It, turns his attention from the old to the new. One of the country’s hottest young playwrights, Brett Neveu, brings us the world premiere of Old Glory.This gripping drama in which a family confronts loss as a conseqwuence of war is brought intensely to life through Neveu’s direct yet poetic language. No government, no politics, just people. Razor sharp wit and fiercely emotional confrontation combine as this viscerally powerful mystery unfolds.

February 3 – March 29, 2009

 

 

 

 

World Premiere Musical!!

A Minister’s Wife

Music by Josh Schmidt, Lyrics by Jan Tranen

Adapted by Austin Pendleton

Conceived & Directed by Michael Halberstam

After his unanimously acclaimed New York debut, The Adding Machine, Writers’ Theatre Associate Artist Josh Schmidt has become the most eagerly anticipated young musical theatre composer in the country. Schmidt’s second creation, in collaboration with artistic director Michael Halberstam, playwright Austin Pendleton and lyricist Jan Tranen, receives its world premiere in Glencoe. A poet, a preacher and his wife enter into a delicious conflict when a fantastical assumption turns an ordinary day topsy-turvy.

May 19 – July 19, 2009

For more information on Writers’ Theatre, call 847-242-6000, or go to www.writerstheatre.org.

Review: Remy Bumppo’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”

 

Annabel Armour and Susan Shunk, currently starring in Mrs. Warren's Profession, by George Bernard Shaw, presented by Chicago's Remy Bumppo Theatre

Prostitution and incest – topics that have fueled many a modern play, were extremely taboo subjects in 19th-century Victorian England. So it’s wholly understandable that George Bernard Shaw’s comedic drama, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, which deals with these themes (real or implied), would cause such an uproar in 1893 London. The work was completely banned for seven years. Indeed, when the play finally leapt to American shores, opening in New York in 1905, it was shut down on opening night, with two of the lead actors arrested and thrown in jail. And modern day stage actors think they have it bad!

Along with these obvious moral no-no’s, Mrs. Warren’s Profession also presented the threatening notion that women actually might have a choice in seeking a satisfying profession rather than rely on men to supply their security. Going beyond this, Shaw’s work also exposed the high emotional cost that could occur with this possible female independence.

Remy Bumppo Theatre has successfully discovered the perfect rhythm of Shaw’s flowing and introspective voice – Mrs. Warren’s Profession is darkly delightful. The two leading women are superb, accenting the directing prowess of David Darlow. Annabel Armour radiantly shines through her performance of the scandalous Mrs. Kitty Warren. Armour has created a character that, rather than reviled (or at least pitied), draws compassion. We understand her plight and are proud of what she has done with her life. Susan Shunk, playing Mrs. Warren’s Cambridge-graduated daughter, Vivie, is masterful in finding her character’s complexities – she is strong-willed in combating the social demands of a woman of the time, but reaches further into her character by communicating Vivie’s insecurities: shunning other people in her life, using her supposed resolute independence in order to avoid any situation that would make her seem vulnerable and unsure of herself to others.

Backing up these two talented leads are the charismatic Matt Schwader as perennial tease Frank Gardner (who might be Vivie’s half-brother, hence the implied incest), the fatherly Donald Brearley as Praed, Joe Van Slyke as the confused Reverend Gardner, and Kevin Gudahl as Mrs. Kitty’s shrewd (and boorish) business partner, Sir George Crofts

Mrs. Warren’s Profession is slow in the beginning, the first scene gives us the feeling that we are witnessing a study in character development rather than engrossing us in the play’s rich language. Also, George Bernard Shaw has offered up a few implausible circumstances: Why wouldn’t a grown daughter know whether her mother was married or not? Why wouldn’t same daughter be curious as to where the tuition money supplied by her mother was originating? What was her mother doing when traveling all over Europe (and why wouldn’t the well-educated daughter want to go along with her mother to such cultural cities of Berlin, Brussels and Budapest)? Perhaps these are questions that would not seem so odd at the time the play was written – that children did not question their parents or analyze their situations. Who knows?

Overall, Mrs. Warren’s Profession is an exquisite study of the struggles women once faced (and still face) when yearning to obtain a decent standard of living through an enjoyable career rather than succumb to the morally acceptable road of seeking a husband for security. Through Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Remy Bumppo has presented a highly-satisfying resonant coda to their theatrical season.  

Rating: «««