Friday, June 19, 2015


“My Fair Lady” was a huge hit when it premiered in 1956, and now Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical adorns the colossal Muny stage after a seven-year absence with a strong voiced ensemble and excellent leads, under the tight direction of Marc Bruni. It’s based on a film version of George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion” -- a prototype of sorts, providing a blueprint for several “transformation” films that followed. (“Trading Places” and “Pretty Woman,” anyone?)

Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle)
and the ensemble cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
Henry Higgins (Anthony Andrews), a phonetics professor, is on his way home from the opera when he meets Eliza Doolittle (Alexandra Silber), a flower girl selling her wares at Covent Garden. She catches his attention with her flagrant acts of swallowing up defenseless vowels and “h’s” thanks to her Cockney dialect. Higgins claims to Colonel Pickering (Paxton Whitehead), a linguist and fellow lover of dialects, that under his tutelage he could pass her off as a member of the upper classes. Doolittle, who wants to learn how to speak “properly” so she can work in a flower shop, is driven to seek out Higgins, and the challenge is taken up to improve her diction and social skills. Higgins sees his actions as kindhearted, though he views Doolittle as little more than an experiment, despite the keener observations of his housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce (Peggy Billo), his mother (Zoe Vonder Haar) and Pickering.

Anthony Andrews (Henry Higgins), Peggy Billo (Mrs. Pearce),
Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle)
and Paxton Whitehead (Colonel Pickering).
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
Now admittedly, there’s not a lot to love about the pompous misogynist Henry Higgins as portrayed by British Academy and Golden Globe Award winning Andrews. Later in the show Higgins refers to women as “exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening and infuriating hags!” No wonder he’s still a bachelor, right? But Andrews does manage to give you a sliver of charm to hang onto in a dapper performance, if not a little severe. Silber’s resilient Eliza Doolittle proves a good counterpart for the professor, in addition to her strong vocals, and Whitehead’s Colonel Pickering is appealingly sympathetic to Eliza. Matthew Scott as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a young man taken with Doolittle, provides some of the best vocals of the night with a memorable “On the Street Where You Live" and Peggy Billo, in her Muny debut, turns in a sparkling performance as Mrs. Pearce, with Zoe Vonder Haar’s droll Mrs. Higgins falling squarely on Doolittle’s side in the face of her son’s indifference. Michael McCormick is also a standout, providing a healthy dose of humor in his lively performance as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's father.

Michael McCormick (Alfred P. Doolittle)
and the ensemble cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer
On the creative side, Timothy R. Mackabee’s scenic design includes a marvelous backdrop of a map of London, a race track viewing stand, and, embellished with dozens of paintings, a rather over-busy rendering of the home of Henry Higgins, complemented by John Lasiter’s lighting design. Amy Clark’s handsome costume design informs the social classes of 1912 London, with sound design by John Shivers and Hugh Sweeney, and a score beautifully executed by the Muny orchestra.

So, there’s another classic I get to cross off my list. With well-known songs including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”, "The Rain in Spain", “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church on Time”, Bruni keeps this old standard lively enough to keep it from seeming like a doily on your grandmother’s dining room table. It’s playing until the 21st.

Cast of The Muny’s “My Fair Lady”
Photo credit: Phillip Hamer

Book/lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Marc Bruni
through June 21 | tickets: $14 - $87
Performances Monday to Sunday at 8:15pm

Anthony Andrews (Henry Higgins), Alexandra Silber (Eliza Doolittle), Paxton Whitehead (Colonel Pickering), Michael McCormick (Alfred P. Doolittle), Matthew Scott (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Zoe Vonder Haar (Mrs. Higgins), Peggy Billo (Mrs. Pearce), Ensemble: Lori Barrett-Pagano, Leah Berry, Anna Blair, Steve Czarnecki, Thom Dancy, Colby Dezelick, Samantha Farrow, Matt Faucher, Ellie Fishman, Tanya Haglund, Michael Hartung, Steve Isom, Austin Glen Jacobs, Jacob Lacopo, Lee Anne Matthews, Russell McCook, Kaela O’Connor, Rich Pisarkiewicz and Paul Scanlan.

Scenic design by Timothy R. Mackabee; choreographer, Chris Bailey; music director, Ben Whiteley; costume design by Amy Clark; lighting design by John Lasiter; sound design by John Shivers and Hugh Sweeney; video design by Nathan W. Scheuer; wig design by Leah J. Loukas; stage manager, Nevin Hedley.

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