The Playhouse Square touring production of ‘My Fair Lady’ truly is ‘Loverly’
The Playhouse Square touring production of “My Fair Lady” is being billed as “A sumptuous new revival of the most perfect musical of all time.” To be honest I have to totally agree with that statement. Everything about this show is grand and delightful from the amazing descending and revolving sets to the lavish costumes and the seventeen piece orchestra seated in the pit in front of the stage. The singing is top notch especially when the ensemble cuts loose as a group.
Normally I would be the first to gripe about any show going past the two hour comfort level (this show is three hours with a single intermission) but the production is so dazzling and the scene transitions so fluid time races by. It does not hurt that every song is well known and loved by all.
The show first saw stage lights in 1956 with Rex Harrison (Tony Award) and Julie Andrews (Tony Award Nomination) as the stars. It ran for a total of 2,717 performances making it the longest running Broadway musical until 1964’s “Hello Dolly.” This classic musical has enjoyed three Broadway revivals (1976, 1981 and 1993) as well as a 1964 film adaptation starring Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. Along with the fore mentioned Tony Award for Harrison it won an additional five Tony Awards including Best Musical and the movie garnered an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Poor Eliza Doolittle (Shereen Ahmed) eeks out a living in the Covent Garden area of London, England. The year is 1912. It is late evening and outside the Opera House Eliza plies her trade. By chance she runs into Colonel Pickering (Kevin Pariseau) as Professor Henry Higgins (Laird Mackintosh) secretly notates her speech patterns. One of Eliza’s friends tips her off about Higgins and she boldly confronts him. He explains that he is a linguist specialist and he was merely writing her speech pattern down for later study. Pickering then introduces himself declaring that his reason for visiting London is to meet Higgins who declares that he was preparing to travel to India to meet the Colonel.
The Professor then boasts that in six months he could transform Eliza and pass her off as a duchess. When scolded by Eliza, Higgins tosses a handful of coins into the flower basket and the two men take their leave to Higgin’s residence. The next afternoon Eliza shows up at 27A Wimpole Street asking to take proper English lessons in order to one day work in a flower shop. At the encouragement of Pickering (who promises to foot the bill) Higgins agrees to not only teach but transform the “guttersnipe” into a lady of high quality with the promise to take her to the upcoming Embassy Ball which is the high water mark of the social season.
It is not long after that Eliza’s near to well father, Alfred P. (Martin Fisher) pays a visit to Wimpole Street to put the light touch on the Professor. Alfred asks for 5 pounds and Higgins offers him 10. Alfred refuses saying that it is too much and would entail middle class responsibility whereas the smaller amount is good for a binge with no regrets or responsibilities. They come to an agreement and taking the five pound note Alfred takes his leave. After Eliza’s father departs, Higgins sends a wire off to an American millionaire who is looking for a lecturer on moral values and suggests Alfred. When the millionaire dies Alfred gets a large inheritance ruining his life as now he has responsibilities. Months later, following a major late night (early morning) vocal break through Higgins and Pickering decide to do a test run by introducing Eliza at the opening of the Ascot Races.
It is really hard to decide where to heap praise for this show. All of the elements are so top rate that one scarcely knows where to begin. The cast is phenomenal. Shereen Ahmed is perfect as Eliza Doolittle transforming in word and dress from ragtag to elegant. Her speaking voice from flower girl to duchess is natural. Laird Mackintosh as Professor Henry Higgins is the consummate example of proper English speech and decorum and while he scolds Eliza it is to motivate her not to embarrass her. Kevin Pariseau is solid as Colonel Pickering using all manners of facial expressions and body language. Martin Fisher stops the show with his rendition of “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” with the aid of the exceptional ensemble. Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Higgins (Henry’s mother) has a glowing smile of a mother who knows that all will work out in the end (she is right of course).
The show is wonderfully directed by Bartlett Sher who gets all of the elements to meld together while advancing the story line at a swift pace. Christopher Gattelli is in charge of the choreography that is pure class all the way. Ted Sperling handles the music supervision which is top notch. The magnificent stage sets are worked by Michael Yeargan and really add a new dimension to the show. Costumes by Catherine Zuber are authentic and/or elegantly beautiful. Donald Holder is in charge of the lighting design which is yet another perfect element and Marc Salzberg does the sound which he manages to tame the 3,400 seat capacity KeyBank State Theatre so that everything is crystal clear.
This is a show that will totally enthrall all who see it. From the over the top grand stage sets with descending Opera House front, Higgin’s spinning multi-room home with spacious study, Alfred’s neighborhood pub, Higgin’s outdoor street, Ascot (with the sound of horses racing from left to right), and the Grand Ballroom at the Embassy, the costuming, the singing, the orchestra...I could go on and on. In short, see this show and be bedazzled. You will be humming songs all the way back to the car.
The Playhouse Square touring production of “My Fair Lady” will be on stage in the KeyBank State Theatre through June 26, 2022. For information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.playhousesquare.org/events/detail/my-fair-lady-22 or call (216) 241-6000.