Edmond Chibeau looks at performance and theatre from the avant-garde communication perspective

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

Saturday, July 09, 2011

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady
Book and Lyrics:  Allan Jay Lerner
Music:  Frederick Loewe
With Terrence Mann and Eileen Fulton
Director: Vincent J. Cardinal
Music Director: NDavid Williams
July 7 - 17, 2011
Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre

Review: Edmond Chibeau 7/8/11

Shortly after it opened in 1956 My Fair Lady became one of the most successful musicals in American musical theatre history.  It was adapted from the 1914 straight play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, but it has a long pedigree.

The story we enjoy as the Lerner and Loewe musical comes to us from many sources including Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the 1762 opera Pygmalion by Jean-Jacque Rousseau, a play in blank verse by W. S. Gilbert which premiered in 1871, and of course George Bernard Shaw’s 1916 Pygmalion.  One wonders how the arc of this production would have been different if W. S. Gilbert had been working with Arthur Sullivan on operettas when he wrote his version of Pygmalion

Early in the show Professor Higgins sings his indictment of the British Class system with the wonderful, “Why Can’t the English Speak English” and shortly thereafter proceeds to say of poor Eliza, "She's so deliciously low. So horribly dirty."

This enables the script to bite the heels of aristocratic and middle class prejudice and also to deepen the character of Professor Higgins by showing us a contradiction in his character. 

Terrence Mann delivers the line with a frisson of excitement and an air of superiority that makes us look forward to the comeuppance that he so richly deserves; and that we are sure Elisa will provide.  When Mann, as Higgins, delivers the line it opens up the Fabian themes of the play and whets our appetite for the coming emotional conflict with Elisa Doolittle.

Lerner and Loewe are not Fabian democratic socialists and they write for the pure joy of entertainment.  But the underlying Shavian philosophy in the George Barnard Shaw Play cannot help but seep through into the Musical Comedy of 1950s Broadway Americana.

Terrence Mann, who plays the professor of phonetics Dr. Higgins, is know for originating the Broadway roles of Rum Tum Tugger in Cats, Javert in Les Miz and the Beast in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  My suspicion is that he will be remembered in the theatre community for his generosity of spirit; a generosity that is manifest in several ways in this production.  He often gives support and throws the focus to Alix Paige who plays Eliza.  When he does a turn of his own he commands the stage, but when another actor is speaking he leads us to other actor with his eyes and body posture.
In the final moment of the play Mann says, “Bring me my shoes” and then makes a disarming shrug and smile that belies the 1950s male chauvinism that might be carried in the line.
Alix Paige who plays Eliza Doolittle has a terrific sense of comic timing and holds her own with her experienced co-stars.  Her voice is beautiful and her range is broad.
Richard Ruiz as Alfred P. Doolittle shows us how quickly a common dustman is willing to adopt the morality of the petite bourgeoisie when given the chance.  His acting style for this production is broad and serves the needs of both his character and the production.  He is an audience favorite.
Eileen Fulton, famous for her long tenure on As the World Turns, is poised, professional, and compassionate as Higgins' mother.
Timothy Gulan as Colonel Pickering has a wonderful sense of comic timing.  Conner Moore as Freddy Eynsford-Hill is all starry–eyed innocence and puppy love.
Vincent J. Cardinal’s Direction does a good job integrating the different levels of experience found in the heterogeneous cast while allowing the actors the freedom to find their own performance.

A reviewer who was fortunate enough to have seen Rex Harrison reprise his role as Higgins in the 1981 revival at the Uris Theatre on Broadway would notice that Cardinale’s interpretation is less arch and more compassionate the earlier one.  Cardinal’s  production hews close enough to the various Rex Harrison versions but manages to keep the moments fresh and surprising.

The attentive Musical Direction by NDavid Williams keeps the show moving and always supports the actors.

The excellent Choreography is by the actress, dancer, choreographer Charlotte d’Amboise who is also performing on Broadway as Roxie Hart in the musical Chicago.

I am glad that I was encouraged to see this production by Amy Reusch who studied under Jacques d’Amboise and worked for many years with Christopher d’Amboise.  If you see it you’ll be glad too.

This Fair Lady is well danced, well costumed, well acted and well directed.  It is beautiful to watch and fun to listen to.
La lluvia en España cae principalmente en la llanura.
Catch it if you can.

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