Review of My Fair Lady
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Composed by Frederick Loewe
Based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Craig A. Miller
Music Direction by Nathen Riebli
Choreography by Joseph Favalora
6th Street Playhouse
For tickets / schedule :
6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa
RUN: May 6 – June 5, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars
(May 13, 2016)
My Fair Lady is an enduring musical with glorious music, and a tongue-in-cheek examination of gender and societal roles. Exaggerated in the opening scene, the difference between Eliza’s class and the opera audience is striking, yet within a few months, Eliza is able to fit in with them through extensive training. It calls into question how important class distinctions are, and whether education is a possible solution. At its heart, My Fair Lady is a love story, whether it is Freddy’s puppy-like obsession, Eliza’s realization that she cherishes being with the professor, for all his faults, or a possible underlying relationship between “confirmed bachelors” Colonel Pickering and Henry Higgins.
Superb stage direction from Craig A. Miller keeps background characters engaged in delightful antics or stiff gentility, as the scene calls for. The supporting cast is marvelous, such as Jon Rathjen as Professor Zoltan Kap or Shirley Nilsen Hall as Mrs. Higgins, who delivers verbal barbs reminiscent of Dame Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. Joseph Favalora’s choreography has a touch of physical comedy to it which shines in the servants’ flustered twirling during I Could have Danced All Night and cavorting in Get Me to the Church on Time. Scenic designer Jesse Dreikosen’s sets are simple and functional, augmented by props that are used to great effect in the jug band style With a Little Bit of Luck. The staging of Show Me is the best I have seen—Eliza tosses poems at Freddy’s (Brett Mollard) head while he tries to write more, dodging her caresses. Kit Grimm’s Colonel Pickering stole many a moment with subtle comedic expressions and timing. He can turn adjusting a pillow into a hilarious commentary on the other characters. Storming the gin joints of London, Norman Hall as Alfred P. Doolittle and his cronies are as lovable as they are disreputable.
The backbone of a musical is its orchestra, and unfortunately violinist Linda Welter is not up to the task. Laboring under what Henry Higgins might call a sound “painful to your ears” the string heavy overture and Embassy Waltz were difficult to endure. Fortunately, this is not a problem when drowned out by the strong singing of the cast, which is the majority of the production.
I grew up listening to the original Broadway cast recording of My Fair Lady, and watching the film religiously; David Yen as Henry Higgins is the equal of Sir Rex Harrison. His I’m an Ordinary Man alone is worth attending this production to see. He is slightly softer in his portrayal, giving insight into the professor’s vulnerable moments under the prickly façade. The final moment when he realizes Eliza has decided to come back is heart-wrenching. Denise Elia-Yen as Eliza Doolittle is sweet-natured with a foundation of courage that flares out when she needs it. The Ascot scene when she describes her father and the gin is hilarious, leaving Freddy and the audience snickering with genuine amusement. Costume designer Tracy Hinman’s Ascot hats and gowns do not disappoint, presenting a stately tableaux.
Despite a weak orchestra, My Fair Lady is buoyed up by its talented cast and effective staging. Husband and wife team Denise Elia-Yen and David Yen are a force to be reckoned with, dueling with finesse and enthusiasm. Do not miss Eliza and Professor Higgins at 6th Street Playhouse, as together they learn there is more to life than speaking correctly. While it is not a perfect production, it is a lively and an enjoyable way to spend an evening.
If you arrive early, be sure to visit the new gallery show at The Studio next door, I was drawn to Susan Barri’s Equine Aerobics, Stan Saloman’s photography, and Peter Turk’s clockwork art pieces that reminded me of Gallifrey in Doctor Who.