Friday, Jun 23, 2017

My Fair Lady (2013)

Ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Ensemble. Photo by Jenny Graham.

As many of you know, I’m not a fan of musicals. I don’t loathe them, but the ones I like are few and far between (Mamma Mia and Rock of Ages, both movies). I went into My Fair Lady with an open mind, knowing only the bare outlines of the plot, and hoped for the best.

The singing was wonderful — Rachel Warren plays Eliza Doolittle with strength and joy. Her singing is glorious, her timing impeccable, and her phrasing simply a joy to listen to. The rest of the cast is uplifted by her, many of them doing far better than I’ve heard them do in past performances. Jonathan Haugen is not known for his singing talents (although you know he’s been a long-time favorite of mine), nor is Anthony Heald (ditto), but each was wonderful, surprising and delighting me with their performances. I want to particularly call out Ken Robinson for his daftly perfect performance of Freddy Eynsford-Hill and David Kelly’s perfectly proper and quite self-centered Colonel Pickering was a perfect counterpoint to Henry Higgins’ rudeness. The cast was, simply put, just great — well done, all of you.
That said, I’m not sure I liked it. It doesn’t push musicals further into the realm of ‘ick’ for me, nor did it push them farther towards ‘I like’. I think, upon reflection, that my ‘meh’ feeling has a lot to do with the actual staging of the play. Two pianos on stage providing the music is a bold choice, and one I presume came from an economic decision. (By the by, the pianists — Matt Goodrich and Ron Ochs — were great. Each had superb timing and clearly a great deal of joy in their material.) Making it a kind of an ensemble and creating a stage where the focus is clearly, constantly on ‘My Fair Lady’ was clearly all leading up to the dramatic moment when Eliza leaves, not just the stage, but the theater itself (and the lights go out on the MFL sign). A very dramatic moment, but one COMPLETELY undercut by her return to him. Granted, she never actually goes back onto the stage, but I feel they so consistently broke the 4th wall that the entire theater was part of the stage. So, I was left confused. That said, having the other actors on stage and indicating changes in scenery by costume changes was brilliant, I feel. So, kudos for creating a musical I didn’t leave at intermission (Pirates, Imaginary Invalid) or refuse to see at all (Music Man). But I’m afraid you didn’t convince me to like them any further.