By Sandi Durell
This has always been, in my estimation, Lerner & Loewe’s perfect musical. With Bartlett Sher at the helm, it once again resonates with the grand history of Broadway. My personal interest in not re-touching it with the more recent reimaging for revivals, has relevancy here. Leave perfection and greatness as it was meant to be. And in that spirit, we witness a gorgeous production that enhances all the senses. What Sher and his winning team – lavish and perfectly conceived costumes by Catherine Zuber and turntable-extravagant two tiered scenic design by Michael Yeargan – achieve is a subtle ability to leave things as they were but given the change of times, raise awareness of class injustices..
In the Lincoln Center Vivian Beaumont Theater, you will delight in this rich musical based on Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913) where professor of phonetics, privileged Henry Higgins (arrogant, teasing and handsome Brit, Harry Hadden-Paton) wanders down to Covent Garden recording voices of flower sellers to find squawky Cockney, lower class Eliza Doolittle (high spirited Lauren Ambrose of “Six Feet Under” fame) – a surprising choice as she’s known more as a dramatic actress but proves to possess a charming and vibrant sweet soprano. Higgins quickly makes a bet with his old friend and fellow phoneticist, Colonel Pickering (an amusing Allan Corduner) that he can refurbish and transform this “squashed cabbage leaf” into a lady, teach her good manners and elocution and introduce her into society as though she were a long lost princess.
The repartee between Henry and Eliza is formidable – he browbeats the girl, she takes it but gives it back with a greater underlying tolerance. Henry, almost childish himself, relies heavily on his strong upper class mother for advice – the exquisite Dame Diana Rigg – who has greater insights into the goings on of Henry and Pickering . . . “What a pretty pair of babies you are, playing with your live doll.”
The sparkling genius of Lerner and Loewe overwhelm at every turn: “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” – “ The Rain in Spain” – “I Could Have Danced All Night” – “I’m an Ordinary Man” and on.
Yet, with all this the highlight is the wild and untamed Alfred Doolittle (the amazingly talented Norbert Leo Butz), Eliza’s drunken brash father who sells her for 5 pounds to Higgins. Butz is the ultimate scene stealer and piece de resistance of comic wit in “Get Me To The Church On Time.”
The exquisite “Ascot Gavotte” is only one of several production numbers that should win choreographer Christopher Gattelli multiple awards this season and prove Ambrose’ strong abilities in comic timing.
Jordan Donica’s beautiful tenor is notable as the smitten Freddy “On The Street Where You Live.”
The grand 29 piece orchestra, is musically directed by Ted Sperling; spot on lighting is by Donald Holder with sound design by Marc Salzberg.
Eliza emerges as a strong woman readily able to turn the tables around, under Sher’s seamless direction, which will most assuredly speak to today’s modern audiences.
Photos: Joan Marcus
My Fair Lady – Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center – run time: 2 hrs, 55 min.