I’ve grown accustomed to seeing MY FAIR LADY. With each viewing I have been more or less delighted, entertained, and amused by this classic, onstage and onscreen. But never did I expect to be newly aroused by the characters, or for the first time find Henry Higgins of “romantic” interest, let alone care about the socio-economic struggle underpinning this tale about a linguistics professor who plucks a cockney flower girl off the streets of London, and to win a bet, promises to pass her off in society as a sweet-talking aristocrat. ALL of this is true of the more than loverly production of MY FAIR LADY now on the LYRIC’s intimate STAGE under the astute direction of Scott Edmiston. Suddenly, MY FAIR LADY is rapturous and timely!
The ravishing Jennifer Ellis stars as Eliza Doolittle and though a few of the songs fall in the weakest part of her pefectly pitched soprano when she hits the sweet spot, her voice blooms like a rose. She’s funny, feisty, and charming all at once, with cheekbones that could cut glass and a complexion that lights up the street where she lives. She stuns in stripes at Ascot, and astonishes in amethyst at the ball! But most of all she acts with an urgency that takes your breath away, and believably lights a fire under the dismissive professor.
Which brings me to the outstanding Christopher Chew who walks a fine line as Henry Higgins. Rex Harrison eat your heart out. Chew is the right age, younger and handsomer than the prof is often cast, and just volatile enough to make Higgins vulnerable to Eliza’s spirit and aptitude. Their scenes together are fresh and exciting. Never was there a more jubilant “The Rain in Spain,” when her diction and his expectations explode in a triumph of linguistical exultation. Later Chew finds every dramatic beat in his extraordinary rendering of “I’m An Ordinary Man.”
Remo Airaldi is a wonderful Colonel Pickering just dithering enough as Higgins’ sidekick in this crazy caper, and endearing enough to balance Higgins out. All the supporting characters are splendid–Cheryl McMahon as the wise housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, Beth Gotha as Henry’s assured and amused mother, Tony Castellanos as the preposterously pompous Zoltan who gets a laugh just by walking in, Jared Troilo as Freddie who sings his heart out and doesn’t know he hasn’t got a chance, and J.T. Turner as Eliza’s ne’er do well dad who sings and dances for all he’s worth, which is more than he bargained for, middle class morality be damned.
I have one quibble and that’s with the scene at Ascot, immortalized in the 1964 film by Cecil Beaton’s stunning black and white palate and broad brimmed hats. This LADY has been updated from the Edwardian era to the less ornamented 1930’s, but I would have preferred a nod to that scene and thought we were being led there by this set with its black and white tiles, etc, and working us toward that moment where Eliza takes the starch out of those colorless society stiffs and very colorfully urges her pony across the finish line.
That scene aside, the sets, most of the costumes, the live orchestra, great lighting, exuberant choreography, and an ensemble of 8 who sound like 48, all coalesce around that glorious Lerner and Loewe score. I could have listened all night. Don’t miss MY FAIR LADY at the Lyric Stage through October 11!