My Fair Lady

‘My Fair Lady’ in class by itself at Opera House - Boston Herald - (Boston, MA) - 8 February 2008

‘My Fair Lady’ in class by itself at Opera House

By Jenna Scherer | Arts & Culture - BOSTON HERALD REVIEW

You can call musical theater a lot of things, but intelligent isn’t usually one of them. Your average song-and-dance piece has plenty of heart, but no brains. “My Fair Lady,” however, is that rarest of creatures: a smart musical. It’s onstage at the Opera House in an equally smart revival helmed by the legendary Trevor Nunn.

Lerner and Loewe were already off to a good start when they chose George Bernard Shaw’s blindingly clever play “Pygmalion” as their raw material. The musicalization survives with Shaw’s socialism, if not his cynicism, intact.

“My Fair Lady” follows Eliza Doolittle (Lisa O’Hare), a flower girl in 1910 London who falls under the wing of Henry Higgins (Christopher Cazenove), a domineering phonetics professor. Higgins makes a bet with his crony Pickering (Walter Charles) that by correcting Eliza’s cockney speech patterns, he can pass her off as a duchess in a matter of months.

This incarnation is top-notch all around, featuring near-flawless direction, design and performances by a Broadway-caliber cast. Nunn’s attention to detail extends to every corner of the production, from the grandest group numbers to the tiniest of gestures.

He sets his “My Fair Lady” in a specific historical moment, decking out his horserace-goers in their funerary finest for the death of King Edward, and leading Eliza through a crowd of malcontent suffragettes.

The sets, designed by Anthony Ward, are grand and graceful without overpowering the piece. London landmarks fly in or skid by as the story moves from the bustle of Covent Garden to the gramophone jungle of Higgins’ Wimpole Street flat to the airy lawns of Ascot.

Matthew Bourne choreographs unforgettable production numbers, performed by a talented cast. A “Stomp”-inspired “With a Little Bit of Luck” brings the lower classes to raucous life, while the gorgeous “Ascot Gavotte” is a study in elegant restraint.

“My Fair Lady” would be nothing without a good Eliza and Higgins, and London imports O’Hare and Cazenove are both sublime. O’Hare makes her character’s transformation utterly believable, evoking the desperate slapstick of the flower girl and the mesmerizing glide of the faux-duchess with equal ease.

Of note is Marni Nixon, the singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 film, who holds the theater in sway in brief scenes as Higgins’ overbearing mother.

It’s not often a touring production reaches this level of quality. Nunn’s “My Fair Lady” is of a rare vintage, and deserves a viewing by anyone who ever doubted the brainpower of the Great American Musical.

“MY FAIR LADY” At the Opera House, Wednesday night. Through Feb. 17.