By Brian Scott Lipton
It’s been over 20 years since My Fair Lady has had a Broadway run, and if any question remained that the show’s brilliant score by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner deserves to be heard nightly, 54 Sings My Fair Lady delivered a resounding answer in the affirmative. This 70-minute concert version of the classic musical played to a super-packed house, all of whom delighted in the cleverness of Lerner’s lyrics and the beauty of Loewe’s melodies.
Perhaps best of all, the evening (conceived by T. Oliver Reid) provided a perfect showcase for its principal cast, led by the divine Laura Michelle Kelly as cockney girl flower girl Eliza Doolittle. If Kelly was remarkably spot-on (and off-book) in the role, it may have been because she played Eliza on the West End in 2003. Still, she was alternately feisty (“Just You Wait,” “Without You,” “Show Me”) and dreamy (“I Could Have Danced All Night”), and absolutely perfect. Brava, diva!
The men were also impressive: Willy Falk—largely absent from the stage since originating the role of Chris in Miss Saigon in 1991—handled the demanding role of Henry Higgins with considerable aplomb, even lending a touch of sympathy to the priggish phonetics professor, and his singing voice was quite loverly. While a tad too young for the role of Eliza’s rakish father Alfred Doolittle, Gavin Lee was simply delightful, offering boundless charm and pluck to “A Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” (One only wished the stage allowed the agile Lee room to dance). And with his just one number, “On The Street Where You Live,” Josh Young practically stole the evening, his unbelievably gorgeous tenor filling the room, eliciting oohs, aahs, and a squeal or two.
Theater veterans Penny Fuller and Anita Gillette earned instant applause when they appeared to perform the main vocals on “Ascot Gavotte” and Molly Pope was a welcome presence in the minor role of Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. (I was hoping she would double as Mrs. Higgins, but that role was eliminated here.)
If there was one slight misstep, it was the decision to show a few snippets of the Oscar-winning 1964 film version – and nothing and no one should be asked to compete with Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn and those amazing Cecil Beaton costumes.
Still, I could have listened all night to this wonderful score and cast with Mark Hartman on piano.
54 Sings My Fair Lady played 54 Below (254 West 54th Street) on Sunday, October 2.