My Fair Lady

A Loverly Musical Coming To Tampa - Tampa Tribune (Tampa, FL) - 10 September 2007

A Loverly Musical Coming To Tampa

By Kathy L. Greenberg, Tampa Tribune September 10, 2007

TAMPA Long before Botox and Jenny Craig, Broadway’s “My Fair Lady” endorsed soap and elocution lessons as the means to looking good and being better.

On Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe classic musical about an unrefined flower girl transformed into a sophisticated lady will likely remind audiences that change is good, but sometimes the real deal is best.

In 1956, the premiere dazzled audiences in New York. In 2006, a new staging in the United Kingdom opened to celebrate the musical’s 50th anniversary. The North American tour begins in Tampa.

The years have not diminished the show’s vibrancy or relevance. While each adaptation is grounded in the legendary song sequences and witty dialogue, associate director Shaun Kerrison says new companies bring a fresh perspective to every production.

Tampa audiences can expect to hear the familiar refrains of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Rain in Spain.” Henry Higgins (Christopher Cazenove) is still arrogant and detached, while Eliza Doolittle (Lisa O’Hare) is as wild as ever.

What’s new in this revival, Kerrison says, is the 1910 setting. Social issues that marked the era are incorporated throughout, such as the suffragette movement and the death of King Edward VII. Further innovations come from the artistic tweaks of director Trevor Nunn, Matthew Bourne’s award-winning choreography and orchestrations by William David Brohn.

“There’s a surprise that will bring the house down in the ‘Little Bit o’ Luck’ number,” Kerrison says. “One number after the other will make the audience catch their breath.”

Lerner and Loewe’s musical is based on the 1913 play “Pygmalion,” written by George Bernard Shaw. It tells the story of phonetics professor Henry Higgins and a feisty cockney urchin named Eliza Doolittle. Higgins bets a friend that he can train Eliza to articulate well enough to disguise her true identity from members of the upper crust. After he wins the bet, Higgins callously declares that Eliza’s services are no longer required. Only when she leaves him does the professor realize that he’s “grown accustomed to her face.”
Henry and Eliza’s relationship is a romance of intellect that dates to Greek mythology. The notion of molding someone to serve the fantasies of another (think also Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” or “Pretty Woman”) is powerful enough to transcend generations and changing zeitgeists.

When brilliant music, stunning stage designs and an exceptional cast accompany that theme, audiences are rewarded with a beloved musical that survives into its golden years.

“[“My Fair Lady”] allows us to escape into a world that isn’t our own but is relevant,” Kerrison says. “Every generation has its version about class struggle, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s also got the most glorious score ever written.”

ON STAGE
My Fair Lady
WHEN: Wednesday through Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Morsani Hall, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa
TICKETS: $32.50 to $67.50; (813) 229-7827
ON STAGE
Kathy L. Greenberg of Tampa is a freelance writer.