'My Fair Lady' puts on a fresh face
By FIONA SOLTES
For The Tennessean
If you've grown accustomed to the face of the classic 1964 movie version of My Fair Lady, prepare yourself: She's had quite the makeover.
The street-girl-to-society-woman fantasy comes to TPAC this week with new staging, sets and choreography impressive enough that the London Daily Mail called it "the revival against which all others will be measured."
Aside from being pulled together by Cameron Mackintosh the visionary behind legendary productions of Miss Saigon, Les Miserables and Cats the revamped tale features a celebrated ing้nue, a longstanding British leading lady and a recognizable TV star.
"We're very proud of it," says 26-year-old Thomas Schonberg, the show's associate producer. "I knew at the start that this production would be good, especially since I had worked with Cameron before. But I did think the story may have been a little old-fashioned and a bit boring, and that the songs might be, too. I always thought it was show for a much older audience, and that I wouldn't find much I could take away with me and embrace. So it was a bit of a shock. It's wonderful. I absolutely loved it, and I know that other people will, too."
Up-and-comer Lisa O'Hare at 23, still brimming with wide-eyed wonder at taking her "dream role" from a critically acclaimed British run to the U.S. takes on the part of Eliza Doolittle, made famous by Julie Andrews on stage and Audrey Hepburn in film. Professor Henry Higgins, who makes a bet that he can pull off the equivalent of an extreme makeover on Eliza, is played by Christopher Cazenove, best known as Ben Carrington on TV's Dynasty. The part of Henry's mother, Mrs. Higgins traditionally played by a theatrical grand dame went to Sally Ann Howes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame, who played Eliza herself on Broadway in the 1950s.
Mix in the "spectacular" design and the choreography by two-time Tony winner Matthew Bourne that "just takes your breath away," Schonberg says, "and you get a real go-round for your money." The result is as much a Cinderella story for the show as it is for its leading lady.
"It's all so very current," Schonberg says. "And lots of people identify themselves in Eliza's story, people coming from not very privileged backgrounds still wanting to find their own place in society. People go through the journey with her."
In our age of instant fame and televised makeovers, he says, the show offers a highly relatable experience for all ages, one that is precious, colorful, funny and even occasionally wicked. It also brings back well-loved songs like "I Could Have Danced All Night," "The Rain in Spain" and "Get Me to the Church on Time."
But there's not much that compares, Schonberg says, with the moment the "new" Eliza appears on stage in her upper-crust ball gown, every bit the lady, or the moment that she finally gets all of her lessons right.
"Lisa O'Hare will make every man who comes to see the show want to marry her and every girl want to identify with her," Schonberg says. "It's an absolutely fantastic musical."