Review: ‘My Fair Lady’ is ‘Loverly’ at Vivian Beaumont Theatre

By Jonathan Spira on 23 April 2018
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Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady,” which returned to Broadway Thursday night at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, is nothing short of glorious while remaining true to the show’s history and bringing relevance to a new generation of theater-goers.

Alan Jay Lerner adapted it from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” one of the most erudite comedies in the English language, while Frederick Lerner made it sing. Now director Bartlett Sher has made it a model for an age rife with sexual politics.

With the opening scene in the Covent Garden flower market, where we find phonetician Henry Higgins (Harry Hadden-Paton) recording the voices of its denizens, he encounters a common flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Lauren Ambrose), whom he claims he can turn into a duchess or a lady with a mere six months of lessons.

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Never mind that Eliza Doolittle’s father Alfred P. Doolittle offers to sell her to Professor Higgins for five pounds or that Higgins (by proxy) scrubs her after telling his housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (Linda Mugleston) to burn Eliza’s clothes before ridding her of her working-class Cockney accent, the lack of a significant age difference between the two leads (Elizas are traditionally just out of their teens while the average age of a Professor Higgins is over 50) puts the two on more equal footing.

Director Bartlett Sher leverages this to make the show truly relevant to the many discussions going on today about workplace sexual harassment and further bolsters it with a few minor but significant additions to the text either from the 1913 original or the 1938 screenplay and to the staging that includes a march of suffragettes through a scene.

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