By Michael J. Roberts, BroadwayWorld.com
There are musicals and then there are Musicals. In the grand history of the genre, there are probably three or four that could be considered perfect. It is no wonder why Lerner and Loewes’ My Fair Lady is always considered on that short list. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’, the Broadway inception of My Fair Lady made an superstar of Julie Andrews and instantly made the character of Henry Higgins indistinguishable from the actor who played him, Rex Harrison. The film version, which is almost verbatim the stage show, is widely considered the grand dame of all movie musicals and won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture.
So how does one improve on perfection? You can’t. However one can find darker and deeper meaning to the story. Bring in Producer Cameron Mackintosh, Director Trevor Nunn and Choreographer Matthew Bourne to make the work a little edgier and more accessible to a new audience. It was the hit Mackintosh/Nunn/Bourne 2001 London revival starring the amazing Jonathon Pryce as Higgins that this U.S. tour gets its wings. With a gorgeous set by Anthony Ward the cast have all the tools to retell this resilient, lush story and succeed they did.
With one of the most memorable and recognizable scores ever written, this current cast stays true to Shaw’s vision and at almost three hours, this is no easy task. To step into these iconic roles can sometimes be a thankless task, but when you have talent abounding in the form of Christopher Cazenove as Higgins and Lisa O’Hare (who at some moments is a double for Audrey Hepburn) as Eliza, rest assured, the thankless becomes the thankful.
Cazenove, who gained fame in the U.S. as Ben Carrington in ‘Dynasty’, believes every word he exudes. His performance is much more in the vein of Harrison then Pryce, especially with the musical numbers. This works exceedingly well with the redirection of the show for the tour by Shaun Kerrsion. It is Cazenove’s chemistry with Walter Charles’ Colonel Pickering that is pure gold to watch. Charles is one the most underrated musical actors ever to step foot on a proscenium, and for those who had the pleasure of seeing his performance of Albin in La Cage knows exactly what I mean.
My Fair Lady is only as good as its’ Eliza and with Ms. O’Hare, this Lady is not only good, it is brilliant. O’Hare is at one moment a gutter snipe and in the next a statuesque Goddess. Your heart breaks and cheers for her, especially in this version where Nunn puts in your face the physical and mental abuse Eliza has had to endure her whole life at the hands of her Father (scene stealer Tim Jerome). The through theme of Nunn’s revival is that of intimidation. This is manifested in Higgins intimidation of Eliza, Alfred Doolittle’s intimidation of Higgins, Higgins intimidation of companionship and Eliza’s intimidation of Alfred. To watch each of the characters overcome their past history is the breath of this production.
Bourne’s choreography and staging are greatly appreciated in this revival and give the show some sweeping and energetic dance numbers, specifically Alfred Doolittle’s two big production numbers, “With a Little Bit of Luck”, which has a bit of Stomp inserted by the duskers and “Get Me To The Church On Time”.
Also of note, the legendary Marni Nixon, who is the unseen queen of movie musicals, supplying the singing voice to Maria in West Side Story, Anna in The King and I and of course, Eliza in My Fair Lady, has stepped into the role of Mrs. Higgins. The audience welcomed her opening night performance like the theatre royalty she is.
My Fair Lady runs through February 3, 2008 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, Illinois. For schedule and ticket information, please visit www.broadwayinchicago.com or www.MyFairLadyTheMusical.com Groups of 20 or more may receive a discount by calling (312) 977-1710.