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My Fair Lady
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Marc Bruni
The Muny
June 15, 2015

Anthony Andrews, Peggy Billo, Alexandra Silber, Paxton Whitehead Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Anthony Andrews, Peggy Billo, Alexandra Silber, Paxton Whitehead
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

My Fair Lady is an iconic musical. It’s often considered one of the greatest musicals of all time, and as such has been revived many times since its Broadway debut in 1956. The problem that comes with a show as well-known as this one, though, is that it’s been performed so many times that it’s easy for productions to appear dated or just to lose that sense of “newness” and energy that’s important in any production. Fortunately, the Muny’s 2015 season debut production does not suffer from that problem. In fact, the Muny has brought to the stage a My Fair Lady that has all the verve and vibrancy of a new production while still honoring the classic spirit of this timeless musical.

The story is familiar–a less cynical, musical take on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion in which curmudgeonly linguistics expert Professor Henry Higgins (Anthony Andrews) encounters Covent Garden flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Alexandra Silber) and bets his new friend, fellow linguist Colonel Pickering (Paxton Whitehead) that he can turn Eliza into a well-spoken lady and pass her off as such at an upcoming grand ball.  Along the way, Eliza learns how to assert her own independence as she deals with Higgins, Pickering, her opportunistic father Alfred P. Doolittle (Michael McCormick) and some of the upper class people she meets, such as Higgins’s mother (Zoe Vonder Haar) and an eager and somewhat silly new suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Matthew Scott).  All the familiar songs are here, as well, from “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” to “A Little Bit of Luck”, “On the Street Where You Live”, “Get Me to the Church On Time”, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, and more.

The battle of wits between Higgins and Eliza is, as usual, the main attraction in this production, and it is impeccably played out by the marvelous Andrews and Silber. Andrews plays a Higgins who’s stubbornness is apparent, although there is just enough vulnerability and charm to make his story believable, and by the time he gets to the perfectly played  “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” it’s clear that, although he’s still the same guy, he’s been changed just a little bit for the better. Silber plays a tough, gutsy Eliza whose transformation from flower girl to lady is thoroughly convincing. Unlike some other Elizas I’ve seen, the transformation is played more as an empowerment, and it’s very clear that, although her speech and manners are altered, she’s still recognizably the same person by the end of the play–just wiser and more mature. She also has a strong, clear soprano and strong presence especially on “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “Show Me” and “Without You”.  These two are a formidable duo, with convincing combative chemistry, and their notable confrontation scenes in Act 2 (in Higgins’s parlor and later, at his mother’s house) are ideally played.

The supporting cast is uniformly strong, as well. Whitehead is an ideal Pickering, with an amiable personality and excellent comic timing. McCormick, in a role that’s easy to overplay as Doolittle, strikes just the right balance between reality and caricature, bringing spark and life to “A Little Bit of Luck”, “Get Me to the Church on Time” and his scenes with Eliza.  Scott is a find as Freddy–probably the best Freddy I’ve ever seen, in being able to effectively portray a slightly foolish lovestruck young man with just the right amount of charm that doesn’t go over the top to cloying or annoying. His “On the Street Where You Live” is a soaring highlight of the show. There are also strong performances from Peggy Billo as Higgins’s no-nonsense housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, and local favorite Zoe Vonder Haar as Higgins’s strong-willed but fair-minded mother. There’s also a very strong ensemble, supporting the main cast well and displaying much energy and skill in production numbers like the magnificent “Ascot Gavotte” and the delightfully choreographed (by Chris Bailey) “Get Me to the Church On Time.” Vocally, everyone’s in good form, achieving a sound that’s recognizably 50’s influenced but also suitably fresh and vibrant.

Visually, the huge Muny stage is used to excellent effect. As with the performances, noting is over or underdone. The design elements–from Timothy R. Mackabee’s simple but stylish set to Amy Clark’s wonderfully colorful and detailed costumes–strike just the right balance of grandiosity and realism. There’s also excellent lighting work from designer John Lasiter. The only real issue on opening night was sound, with some mics not working properly and a few lines being missed, although I expect that will be dealt with as the show continues its run.

My Fair Lady is an excellent celebration of tradition as well as a prime example of the excellence brought to the company by Executive Director Mike Isaacson.  With energy, style and ideal casting, this show presents the best of what the Muny has to offer. It’s a grand introduction to the 2015 season, and I look forward to seeing what else the Muny has in store this summer.

Michael McCormick (center) and the cast of My Fair Lady Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Michael McCormick (center) and the cast of My Fair Lady
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

My Fair Lady runs at the Muny in Forest Park until June 21, 2015.

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