Theater Review: MY FAIR LADY (National Tour)

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by Tony Frankel on October 12, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area,Tours

STILL THE FAIREST

I’m rather certain one cannot visit enough productions of My Fair Lady. The 1956 musical, based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, tells the tale of Professor Henry Higgins, a puffed-up upper-class grammarian, and Eliza Doolittle, his lower-class, flower girl protégé whom Higgins turns into a lady by changing her speech. With one of the most glittering scores in American musical history, and the most witty, sophisticated, character-driven book, the Lerner & Loewe show is a celebration of talent, originality, and storytelling. And in our modern world in which communication is relegated to 140 characters — and even The New York Times has typos — My Fair Lady is a reminder of the glorious mysticism and power of human speech. In my mind, this makes it a perfect show for teens and young adults who, even if they don’t use speech properly, know immediately how exciting great literature is. Newbies will be struck by the sheer genius of it all.

Laird Mackintosh as Henry Higgins, Gayton Scott as Mrs. Pearce, Adam Grupper as Alfred Doolittle,
Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering and Shereen Ahmed as Eliza Doolittle

To love Broadway means cherishing its best works, the more urgently when the Great White Way is currently mired in an ebb tide of jukebox musicals and feel-good tripe fueled by synthetic power ballads. This masterwork not only profits from G.B. Shaw’s brilliant exposure of class snobbery (as exposed by a grubby peddler’s promotion to the highest circles of Edwardian London). The score is a triumph in every note, celebrating where Shaw is cerebrating.

Shavey Brown, Mark Aldrich, Shereen Ahmed (center), William Michals and Colin Anderson

Enthralling and captivating in every note and minute, the Lincoln Center production is now on tour, and this charm-laden revival casts a spell that not even an intermission should interrupt. It’s all superbly served by director Bartlett Sher and choreographer Christopher Gatelli, who ensure that the flawless storytelling is indissolubly grafted to the matchless songs and exhilarating dances. The action is more fluid during and between scenes thanks to Michael Yeargan’s turntable set which delivers London at every level, and the era is perfectly illustrated by Catherine Zuber’s fashion plate costumes, worthy successors to Cecil Beaton’s famous raiment.

Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Higgins, Shereen Ahmed as Eliza, Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering

Wise, warm and winning, Laird Mackintosh is s most surefire Henry Higgins. Suavely eloquent, delicious in his deadpan quips, and perfectly controlled except when expertly combative, this Pygmalion sculpts Shaw’s lines into marble and vinegar. As Eliza, Shereen Ahmed is a revelation, feeling as fresh a fair lady as if Julie Andrews or Audrey Hepburn never happened, her voice a joy whether raging in “Without You” or soaring in “I Could Have Danced All Night.” House guest and fellow dialectician Colonel Pickering — a confirmed old bachelor probably for very different reasons than Higgins — is played with delicious understatement by Kevin Pariseau.

Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Shereen Ahmed as Eliza Doolittle,
Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering and Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Higgins

One of the other fine voices in the cast belongs to Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, an upper-class twit smitten with Eliza post-transformation. His lyrical singing of “On the Street Where You Live” is one of the most endearing and rapturous moments of the production, even though today he’d be arrested as a stalker. Eminently enjoyable in a rather different way is Adam Grupper as Eliza’s ne’er-do-well-turned gentleman Alfred P. Doolittle, whose comic rendition of “Get Me to the Church on Time” — done here as a Town Hall follies — isn’t easily forgotten. Gayton Scott’s turn as housekeeper Mrs. Pearce turns the stern-but-loveable Scotswoman into a major role.

Adam Grupper as Alfred P. Doolittle and Company

No question, My Fair Lady is a near perfect musical, here taken to the heights it pioneered 65 years ago. But there’s more. National tours are known for spotty sound, but at The Dolby in Los Angeles, we had hands down the best touring show sound yet, not just because of Marc Salzberg’s design, but the sound system itself. And at 3,400 seats, 700 seats more than Broadway in Hollywood’s sister theater The Pantages, even the sightlines are greater.

Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering,
Laird Mackintosh as Professor Henry Higgins and Shereen Ahmed as Eliza Doolittle

photos by Carol Marcus

My Fair Lady
National Tour
reviewed at Dolby Theater in Hollywood ends on October 31, 2021
then plays in San Francisco at The Orpheum November 2-28, 2021
also plays in Costa Mesa at Segerstrom Center January 11 – 23, 2022
for tickets, cities, and more dates, visit My Fair Lady

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