MY FAIR LADY
If this ain’t the grea’est bloomin’ musical ever, then blimy, it’s righ’ up there.
Lerner and Loewe’s adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion has lost none of its charm in the half-century since Julie Andrews’ Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison’s Professor Henry Higgins took Broadway by storm. The 1964 movie cemented its success, featuring a lip-synching Audrey Hepburn in place of Andrews. It took home eight Academy Awards including best picture and best actor for Harrison.
The witty, seductive story, glorious music and songs, and memorably vivid characters make My Fair Lady a perennial hit. Sarah Rodgers’ Gateway production offers a delightful, if somewhat long evening, with winning performances in all the principal roles.
Chris Robson is excellent as Higgins, the snobby, misogynist linguist to whom the Cockney flower girl with the horribly lower-class accent is a “squashed cabbage leaf” and a “presumptuous insect.” Higgins bets his friend Colonel Pickering (a perfect John Payne) that he can teach her to speak such high-toned English that she’ll pass as a duchess at the Embassy Ball.
Sure enough, under his slave-driving tutelage Eliza learns to say and sing “the rain in Spain” instead of “the rine in Spine.” But her other rough edges as well as Higgins’ insensitivity lead to further sparks until the inevitable happy ending, capped by Robson’s fine rendition of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
Lauren Bowler gives full value to Eliza’s tough street-girl persona, even after her transformation. And she sings like an angel. Such wonderful songs as “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” get rich accompaniment from a ten-piece orchestra under the direction of Allen Stiles. Patrick Pennefather’s crisp sound design ensures that we hear all the lyrics.
Strong acting support is provided by Eileen Barrett as Higgins’ housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, Kirk Smith as Eliza’s suitor Freddy, and Jane Noble as Higgins’ mother. Noble and Bowler are especially funny in Eliza’s disastrous coming-out scene at the Ascot races.
The scene-stealing performance of the show goes to Simon Webb as Eliza’s cleverly pragmatic, boozing scrounger of a dad. His two great rousing numbers, “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “I’m Getting Married in the Morning,” also feature the chorus and Shelley Stewart Hunt’s choreography at their lively best.
Elsewhere, the large chorus is given little to do but change around the painted flats of Karyn McCallum’s set, a too-frequent activity that makes the show feel longer than it should. Still, this Lady is far more than fair. If you’re looking for fine holiday entertainment south of the Fraser, head for the Gateway.