Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
There is something magnificent happening at Lincoln Center Theater, and it has to do with a powerful and intriguing woman, who has currently walked onto the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theater, revealing that Eliza Doolittle has arrived in the twenty-first century, branding “My Fair Lady” as an old musical destined for a new era. The phenomenal revival directed by Bartlett Sher puts a new and welcomed spin on the classic Lerner and Loewe musical, and is delivered in a big, lavish production, with magnificent sets by Michael Yeargan, atmospherically illuminated with the lighting of Donald Holder, and clad in the impeccable period costumes of early twentieth century London, by Catherine Zuber. It is spellbinding from the first moment you hear the familiar overture of the lush score, with the delightful musical arrangements of Robert Russell Bennett and Phil Lang resonating from a full orchestra. Whether emanating the proper and sophisticated milieu of the “Embassy Waltz” or generating a rousing rendition of “Get Me to the Church on Time,” the choreography of Christopher Gattelli will please the eye. The entire creative team has forged a seamless new production from start to finish that is smart, intelligent and polished, representing what should be expected on a Broadway stage.
There are few words that could aptly describe this cast but oh what a perfect cast it is. Harry Haddon-Paton turns in a complicated, chauvinistic Henry Higgins, who radiates a beguiling narcissism in conflict with his yearning for love. Allan Corduner portrays an endearing Colonel Pickering with a solicitous wisdom. Norbert Leo Butz uses every opportunity to dig deep into the abusive father Alfred P. Doolittle, giving some depth to the egregious character while at the same time, managing to deliver a lighthearted, comical performance you hate to love. Once you hear the clear tonal quality Jordan Donica lends to his lovelorn, yet persistent Freddy, it becomes clear why “On the Street Where You Live” has become a classic. Then there is the superlative Lauren Ambrose who redefines the character of Eliza Doolittle, infusing her with strength, determination and a will to survive. You can see the grit in her demeanor, hear the resilience in her voice and be moved by the beauty of her soul as she takes you on her journey. Do not be deceived by her honest and solid rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” for she may be love-struck, or more appropriately, life struck, but she is a force to be reckoned with.
The story based on the play “Pygmalion” by Bernard Shaw has always struggled with a controversial ambiguous ending where the audience was given the choice to decide what happens to Eliza, what she will do and who she will marry, if anyone at all. When it was to be transformed into a stage musical it was conceived as a romantic comedy with a somewhat happy ending which supported female submission. Mr. Sher envisions a new fair lady, empowered to become all she is capable of being, unshackled from a male dominated society and free from shame and abuse. It is an important and brave interpretation that serves our present social atmosphere, shedding a new perspective on an old story. There is nothing more to say, except “Bravo!”