If you get the chance, go to see the Broadway Revival of “My Fair Lady”.
The show officially opened Thursday, April 19th at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater.
I attended the final preview performance the previous night– with several New York theater critics in the audience. The original Broadway production opened on The Great Way White on March 15, 1956. Julie Andrews starred as Eliza Doolittle while Rex Harrison played Professor Henry Higgins. Alan Jay Lerner wrote the book and lyrics; Frederick Loewe composed the music for the show based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion”. (The musical was eventually made into an Academy-Award feature film starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison).
Bartlett Asher directs this lively revival. This time around, Lauren Ambrose (best known as Claire Fisher on HBO’s “Six Feet Under”) plays the lead role. Eliza is a lower-class flower seller with a Cockney accent who is overheard in Covent Garden by Professor Henry Higgins. Within six months, Higgins, a phonetics expert, hopes to transform Eliza into a proper lady able to pass for a Duchess at the Embassy Ball. In this production, Higgins is played by Harry Hadden-Paton, whom you may know from his portrayal of Bertie Pelham on PBS’s “Downtown Abbey”.
Though in her forties, Ambrose may not be the traditional ingenue typically cast as Eliza. But she is convincing — and simply delightful. She nails a Cockney accent while placing the audience in the palm of her her hand. “Six Feet Under” fans will be surprised that she sings with a pleasant, full soprano. Her shimmery voice lends itself to the classic songs she performs: “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “Without You”, among others. She holds her own in her Broadway musical debut accompanied by a 29-person orchestra. Hadden-Paton is quite competent as the upper-crust professor Higgins, without being entirely overbearing. He fulfills the role clearly written for an actor who sings, rather than a singer who acts.
As Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz shines. He leads a polished ensemble in a memorable crowd-pleasing number: “Get Me to the Church on Time”. Also notable: Jordan Donica as Eliza’s suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill sings a lovely version of the classic song, “On the Street Where You Live.” Diana Rigg as the professor’s mother, Mrs. Higgins, delivers some great one-liners.
The show will surely receive a Tony Award nomination for “Best Revival of a Musical”. Lauren Ambrose will surely get nominated as “Best Actress in a Musical”. Butz will be nominated as “Best Featured Actor in a Musical.” I also predict Michael Yeargan will walk away with a Tony Award for “Best Set Design”. His sets slide back and forth, rise and revolve — smoothly transforming the scene from Covent Garden to the Tottenham Court Road Tenement section to Higgins’ study to an Embassy Ballroom.
It runs just under three hours with an intermission.
My Fair Lady” is more than fair. It’s great! So get yourself to The Vivian Beaumont to see this American classic.
That’s the Lowdown!