The Cobb Energy Center welcomed the Big League Productions production of “My Fair Lady” with a packed house and thunderous applause. Based on the George Bernard Shaw play “Pigmalion,” this Lerner and Loewe musical is arguably the brightest spot in 20th Century musical theater and certainly one of the most familiar musicals among theater going audiences. Telling the tale of a “poor flower girl” and her linguist mentor, it carries a sharpness of wit, a cornucopia of moral questions, and a subtle dance of relational psychology conveyed in piercing dialog and mesmerizing musical numbers. This production of My Fair Lady captures the wit, the questions, and the relationships. The stage is alive with such surety that the stage explodes in a spectacular that is seldom reached in a touring company.
The Backstage Beats recommends My Fair Lady for an amazing value in entertainment with a dazzling performance of this timeless musical. Plus, you might learn something about yourself and your dreams.
Director Jeffery B. Moss brilliantly succeeds in so many levels with this work. In fact, the production’s only weakness is tied so much to its strength. Like many mid-century musicals that became films, it is often difficult to differentiate live productions from the film versions, and often the film imagery and characterizations dominate the live production. This production of My Fair Lady does yeoman’s work in creating original performances. The actors interpret the characters that are both true to the original script and yet uniquely incarnated for the stage. Other aspects from the production are noticeably close to the film version.
Aurora Florence and Chris Carsten each provided new takes on Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. Supported strongly by Richard Springle as Colonel Pickering, they work through this story of a mentor and protégé who struggle with mutual resentments as they also struggle with growing admiration and the prospected of budding romance. Carsten in particular brings a new twist on “confirmed bachelor” and goes far afield of a Rex Harrison performances, leaning more to comic curmudgeon in a style of Nathan Lane. Florence is more traditional in her role, but adds a hunger to the character that harkens back to Wendy Hiller in the film Pygmalion, yet stays distinctly her own Eliza. Kudos also go Arthur Wise’ Alfred P. Doolittle. Wise’ Doolittle is both comic relief and an insightful and meaningful look at the twisting relationship between social status and morality.
My Fair Lady is a musical, and a musical tells it story through song and dance. We are treated to a wonderful night of classics Broadway tunes that are arranged and delivered with such skill and enthusiasm that the audience broke into spontaneous applause after every number. This was not polite appreciation, but thunderous revelry. A solid supporting cast of extremely talented dancers and singers supplemented Florence and Carsten.
A noticeable star in the show is the imaginative sets and backdrops. Because this is a touring company, mobility is important and for many of the sets scrims are used instead of flats. These stage sized backdrops were able to beautifully recreate Covent Gardens, the Ascot Races, the “Street where she lives,” and other locals with vivid and glorious colors.
Occasionally the line blurred between respect for the film and imitation of the film. Costuming in particular seemed to copy the designs of Cecil Beaton. The costuming choice may have been a commercial decision to make the play more palatable to general audiences, or it could have been an artistic decision to honor the work of Beaton. It would have nice to see more originality. This minor nitpick doesn’t represent the quality of the costuming. Overall, the costumes were brilliantly produced, helped to identify and reveal the characters and a wonderful addition to the overall production. Choreography also was derivative though brilliant. Unless you are looking for an experimental evening of theater, this will not be a distractor for you.
If you enjoy fabulous productions and wonderful explorations of the human condition, take in My Fair Lady this weekend. Running from December 9, 2011 through December 11, My Fair Lady does have availability tickets. Check the website for more detail.