My Fair Lady

'Fair Lady' dazzles with visuals - Raleigh News-Observer (Raleigh, SC) - 29 November 2007

'Fair Lady' dazzles with visuals

By Roy C. Dicks, Raleigh News-Observer

It may seem odd to recommend a musical primarily for its sets, choreography and direction, but it’s sincere praise for Broadway Series South’s “My Fair Lady.” The dazzling visuals and the intriguing reconception make this production a “must-see.”

Director Trevor Nunn, whose rethinking of “Oklahoma” a decade ago won awards for delving into its deeper social conflicts, created this version of the Lerner and Loewe classic. For his award-winning 2001 London revival, Nunn sharpened the class differences in the script, giving a stronger edge to Henry Higgins’s cavalier treatment of Eliza Doolittle and to her father’s outbursts against middle-class morality. Nunn also enveloped the production in shadows and mist, employing darker colors for costumes and sets.

The touring version shows what all the fuss is about.

Anthony Ward’s set designs are a marvel of fluidity and detail, ingeniously manipulated within a superstructure of columns and arches. The perspective of Covent Garden changes three times in the opening scene; the “Get Me to the Church on Time” sets fly by as the raucous revelers move from one location to another. Higgins’ massive multistory study, with hundreds of books and a ton of bric-a-brac, drops the jaw as it assembles itself like some giant mechanical toy

Equally impressive are Ward’s costumes, from the well-worn garb of pub denizens to crisply pressed servants’ uniforms and the understated elegance of the Ascot attendees. Ward gives his best creations to Eliza -- an outrageously large, sharply angled hat for Ascot and a shimmering white ball gown that drew audible gasps at Tuesday’s opening.

Choreographer Matthew Bourne provides several electric jolts in the show’s big dance numbers, especially those involving Alfred P. Doolittle and his cronies, which seem to spill out into the auditorium with their noisy energy and infectious spirit. Bourne also can be classy (the whirling embassy ball) and satiric (the equine Ascot number).

The cast members fill their roles well enough, especially the secondary leads. Tim Jerome is an audience favorite with his lovable, irascible Doolittle. Walter Charles makes a warm, funny Col. Pickering; Sally Ann Howes a sympathetic Mrs. Higgins. Justin Bohon gives Freddy a likable infatuation for Eliza and Barbara Marineau a kindly understanding as housekeeper Mrs. Pearce.

Lisa O’Hare and Christopher Cazenove, having played the leads in the U.K. tour, bring confidence and seasoned character to their parts. They play the many dialogue-filled scenes with engaging fervor, though neither has the strongest singing voice and renditions of familiar numbers are only adequate. Both also have a tendency to swallow lines (despite the miking), and Cazenove often throws away some of his best lines. Still, most people know the show well enough that this won’t diminish their enjoyment.

Although a more intimate version than some, this revival retains all the glow of the original, with enough new insights to keep it fresh.

Details

What: “My Fair Lady.”

When: 8 p.m. today-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Memorial Auditorium, Progress Energy Center, Raleigh.

Cost: $38-$71.