My Fair Lady at the Ahmanson Review - Much More than a Fair Revival

Take your pick among the many reasons to see the delightful revival of My Fair Lady currently at the Ahmanson Theatre until April 27, justifiably hailed as “the revival against which all others will be measured.”  If you were planning to skip the 1956 hit show for more contemporary options, reconsider.

(L to R)Christopher Cazenove as Henry Higgins and Lisa O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle


At one time the longest-running Broadway musical, My Fair Lady was adapted by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe from the George Bernard Shaw comedy Pygmalion. Here, Lerner and Loewe’s legendary musical has been honed to perfection from its 50th Anniversary London production and U.K. national tour based on the Cameron Mackintosh/National Theatre of Great Britain production.

Liza O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle


Every single song is memorable in this beloved score, including, “The Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”  The only danger is that they stay in your head for weeks on end.

Every single minute of the close to three hour show invigorates.    Director Trevor Nunn and Designer Anthony Ward have even brought out in sharp relief all the political and social relevance of the “battle between the sexes” and the battle between the classes, making it easy to see even in this seventh revival, why My Fair Lady earned a reputation as the “perfect” and “the most literate musical” in history.    

(L to R)Christopher Cazenove as Henry Higgins and Lisa O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle


We in America like “new and improved”  and topping the list are the rousing and ingenious dance numbers by the always outrageous Matthew Bourne, choreographer and musical staging director.   Judging by the cheers and applause, Bourne’s book ended dances on the raucous streets of London, including the initial showstopper Stomp-like sequence, easily wins everyone over to Alfred P. Doolittle’s preference for lower class pleasures over middle class morality.  

Bourne’s dancers at the Ascot race track, inspires and captures the feeling of  race horses perfectly.   Who knew that humans could perform “dressage” on stage?   It is done so well that it evens out the comparison the more dour black stage costumes (perhaps in respect of the king’s death that day and the grunge of post-Victorian London?) from the spectacular black and white gowns in the film.

The cast as London Society at the Ascot Races


Starring are acclaimed British theatre actors Christopher Cazenove, dour and astonishingly articulate and academic, and the lilting, waiflike Lisa O’Hare. Both earned every top honor for their dynamic performances as Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle.   As Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle, Tim Jerome all but steals the show.   Where Royal Ballet dancer O’Hare flies and floats about the stage, Jerome’s fluid movements are made of contrasting bouncy rubber and keep the show moving.

Tim Jerome as Alfred P. Doolittle(C) and friends


Tim Jerome as Alfred P. Doolittle


Another grace note, and one which brought instant insider applause as soon as she strode on stage, is Marni Nixon, cast as Higgins' down to earth mother. 

Marni Nixon as Mrs. Higgins


Either the audience read their program notes or already knew that it was her voice that sang the songs for Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 movie.   

(L to R) Marni Nixon as Mrs. Higgins and Lisa O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle


(One of the many choice pieces of information is that Mary Martin was an early choice for the role of Eliza Doolittle, but declined the role because, among other things, she and her agent husband could not envision the deadpan choral singing at the Ascot Races – which not turned out to be a highlight of this play version, but ultimately one of the deciding factors that won an Oscar for the film.)

Walter Charles brings a comic touch to Colonel Hugh Picker and Justin Bohon as Eliza's fatuous suitor Freddy adds a desperate tone of upper class inebriation that contrasts to the high jinx of the covent garden drinking crowd .  

Michael J. Farina’s hard to place accent that is supposed to be Austro-Hungarian is the the one sour note in the production and needs to be tuned.   Theodore Bikel played the rapscallion in the film.   Where is a Sascha Baron Cohen when you need him?

Anthony Ward dresses the cast in darker hues than any My Fair Lady to date, and beautifully places the show squarely in grimy 1914 London, complete with suffragette marches and workers warming their hands over open fire pits in the streets. All the better for Eliza’s sparkling, classic and most regal ball gown to draw an audience   gasp before the big event.

Liza O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle


My Fair Lady is a musical based upon George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. The plot begins outside Covent Garden on a dark and storny evening in 1912.   Disheveled cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, combative after a bunch of her flowers are crushed, encounters phonetics expert Henry Higgins.   Higgins transcribes her underclass dialect and boasts to his companion and fellow “expect,”  Colonel Pickering that within six months he could transform Eliza into a proper lady, simply by teaching her proper English.   

The next day, when feisty but ambitious Eliza turns up in his study, arriving “by taxi and with hands and face scrubbed” to pay him for lessons, the bet it on  "It's almost irresistible," clucks Higgins. "She's so deliciously low. So horribly dirty."  As in the legend, it is a creation that he will own, and the battle between the sexes and the classes is on, filled with verbal fireworks and sparks.   And, in fact, not long after that encounter, Eliza’s father offers to sell his daughter to Higgins for five pounds, just enough to buy him pleasure but not enough to turn him into middle class miserable.

Liza O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle


Add to this top notch production the people (and celebrity) watching   show on the Music Center Plaza before and after the main event and you truly have an evening or an afternoon to celebrate.      

Liza O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle


To view the My Fair Lady website Click Here

All photos by Joan Marcus

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