Review: ‘My Fair Lady’ with New Stars is Loverly at Vivian Beaumont Theater

Page 2 of 2
  • Share

IMG_1014

One of the stars that remains unchanged although you won’t find it anywhere in the Playbill is Professor Higgins’ town house on Wimpole Street, a towering, two-story affair. Its appearance on stage comes with a kind of awe factor that rightly deserves the entrance applause it garners – and that’s before the audience realizes the extent to which it moves. The multi-dimensional affair is set on a rotating stage and it turns as characters move through the house – the exterior, the study, the courtyard, and so on – replete with a grandiose interior befitting someone of Higgins’ stature. The interior – scientific apparatus, bar carts on wheels, globes, a complete leather-bound library, and gramophones strewn about – shows Higgins is not just a “confirmed old bachelor” but a somewhat mad scientist as well.

Scherr made “My Fair Lady” more timely and 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 and to the staging that includes a march of suffragettes through a scene. The Eliza in the original revival cast, Lauren Ambrose, made it clear that she was emancipating her Eliza from Professor Higgins at the end, while Laura Benanti’s Eliza is far more ambivalent.

Benanti’s Eliza is more authentic, more joyful, more feisty, and more enchanting, and she is more grateful for the opportunity she gets to rise above her lowly origins.  She’s independent and knows what she wants – namely to escape her scheming father and life of poverty – before she gets involvedwith Professor Higgins, while Ms. Ambrose’s seemed to remain a metaphor for class struggle and the eventual overthrow of the upper class.

Thank heavens for the collegial rapport that Higgins and his partner-in-crime Colonel Pickering have. While I had my doubts about Hadden-Paton when the show opened, given that his age was close to that of Eliza’s (Elizas are traditionally just out of their teens while the average age of a Professor Higgins is over 50) , those long melted away.  The same goes for the relationship between Higgins and his housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce (another holdover, Linda Mugleston), as her reactions to many of the things Higgins says, or better put, barks, are priceless.

Meanwhile, Burstein brings a showman-like quality to Eliza’s dustman-turned-moralist father, Alfred P. Doolittle, although it doesn’t get as close to Stanley Holloway’s rendition of the part as did Norbert Leo Butz.

The production delights the audience as does the presence of Rosemary Harris who, at 91, takes on the role of Mrs. Higgins, Professor Higgins’ mother, and makes her disapproval of her son’s behavior and antics quite obvious.

Where change doesn’t work as well is with the replacement of Jordan Dionica’s Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Eliza’s erstwhile suitor, with Christian Dante White. Einsford Hill, whose role is as much a suitor to Eliza as it is a foil and counterweight to Higgins, is made out to be a buffoon without the upper class British reserve that is expected (although the audience seemed to love that aspect of his Freddy).

Another sticky wicket is Clarke Thorell’s portrayal of Zoltan Karpathy, “that blaggard who uses the science of speech more to blackmail and swindle than teach,” as Professor Higgins puts it, would have been far more credible had Karpathy not been expected to have a Hungarian accent or something resembling one. My gauge for this role is Theodore Bikel as the “hairy hound from Budapest” in the movie version While Thorell oils his way around the dance floor while trying to figure out Eliza’s secret, he is most not certainly speaking with anything resembling a Hungarian or even a Central European accent.

Almost 64 years later, the Loewe score, played by an impressive 28-piece orchestra conducted by Ted Sperling, was as moving and lush as ever, from the loverly first notes in the overture to the solemn ending.

Only one thing was missing from this revival: I had hoped that the show’s current Playbill would return to a variation of the famous original Playbill cover, in which a drawing by Al Hirschfeld, portraying George Bernard Shaw as a kind of heavenly puppet master pulling the strings on Henry Higgins, who in turn is attempting to do the same to poor Eliza. An updated version with Eliza pulling the strings would have been loverly.

Finally, dear reader, I do wish to assure you that I washed my hands and face before I wrote this, I did.

THE DETAILS

My Fair Lady
Vivian Beaumont Theatre
50 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10023
Runtime: 2 hours and 55 minutes
www.myfairladybway.com

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

Pages: 1 2

Accura News

Read previous post:
Swedish Student Fined for Anti-Deportation Protest on Turkish Airways

A Swedish student who refused to follow crew instructions to take her seat and instead livestreamed her protest against the...

Close