My Fair Lady
By Nancy Salz – April, 2018
Henry Higgins sings!
No, not the talking-on pitch that Rex Harrison, the stage and movie Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins, made famous. But real singing of honest-to-goodness melodies – those composed by Frederick Loewe and beautifully performed by Harry Hadden-Paton in the splendid new Lincoln Center Theatre production that just opened. It was a special surprise to hear them.
You might know Hadden-Paton from Downton Abbey where he played Herbert Pelham. He’s a tall, lithe and handsome actor. At 37, he is 11 years younger than Harrison was when he played Higgins, which makes him a more fitting and realistic partner for Eliza Doolittle.
Playing that role is the wonderful Lauren Ambrose. Now 40, she looks half her age. As both a scruffy flower seller and a transformed lady, her energetic presence commands the stage. She possesses a glorious soprano and great acting ability.
With Hadden-Paton and Ambrose in the leading roles of My Fair Lady, the lyrics of the songs as well as the spoken dialogue add intensity to the story. You know the plot, of course. Higgins and Colonel Pickering (Allan Corduner) hear Eliza’s gutter English when she is selling flowers in Covent Garden. Higgins bets Pickering that he can teach her how to speak and pass her off as a lady to English high society. Eliza moves into their home, having been “sold” to them by her father, Alfred P. Doolittle, (Norbert Leo Butz) for five pounds. They treat her like a pet. But the two men do transform her pronunciation and her demeanor. After she triumphs at a ball, she fears for her future. Should she marry her admirer, Freddie Eynsford-Hill (Jordin Donica)? Or make it on her own as the proprietress of a flower shop? Higgin’s mother (Diana Rigg) gives her needed confidence. Eventually she returns to Higgins — or does she? — who has reluctantly fallen in love with her.
Donica has a wonderful tenor voice, and Butz is charming and hilarious as Eliza’s father.
In non-singing roles, Rigg and Corduner are excellent.
The score by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is as gorgeous as ever. The book by Lerner, some of which is taken verbatim from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalian, is both dramatic and relevant in these days of “Me Too.” .
Barlett Sher brings excitement to all the golden-age musicals he has directed. His depth of feeling for the characters permeates the emotions of the audience. He made only one mistake with My Fair Lady – and the choreographer Christopher Gattelli must share the blame. That is adding a can-can dance to the number “Get Me To The Church On Time.” While it is lively and well danced, especially by Butz, it is totally out of place. It takes us away from the time and place of the story. Also, the choreography is needlessly showy and unoriginal – crass in an elegant story. Even the street people of Covent Garden are elegant in their own way.
Ted Sperling directed a 24 piece orchestra – terrifically as always.
Michael Yeargan is responsible for the fabulous sets. There are many scenes in My Fair Lady, but all the transitions are smooth and ingenious. The inside of the Higgins residence is particularly stunning.
Catherine Zuber designed the lavish costumes. Credit Donald Holder for the lighting and Marc Salzberg for the Sound.
It’s been 25 years since the last Broadway production of My Fair Lady. This beautifully acted and sung Lincoln Center production is worth the wait. It is nearly perfect. I loved it.
Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; Music by Frederick Loewe. Directed by Bartlett Sher; Music Direction by Ted Sperling; Choreography by Christopher Gattelli; Sets by Michael Yeargan; Costimes by Catherine Zuber; Mighting by Donal Holder. Sound by Marc Salzberg. Starring Lauren Ambrose, Harry Hadden-Paton, Jorbert Leo Butz, Diana Rigg, Allan Corduner, Jorden Donica – with Linda Mugleston, Manu Narayan and an ensemble of twenty-nine.