Streets where you live

A loverly My Fair Lady ; The Missionary Position at MRT
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  February 12, 2008

080280_lady_main
MY FAIR LADY: Lisa O’Hare would seem to be dogging Julie Andrews’s footsteps, but she resembles Audrey Hepburn in her gamine grit and grace.

George Bernard Shaw, when asked whom he’d like to write the music for Pygmalion, replied “Mozart.” The composer of Don Giovanni having passed to the other side, GBS couldn’t have done much better than Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, whose 1956 My Fair Lady gracefully opened up the 1914 fable its author proudly dubbed “didactic” while remaining true to its socialist heart. The 2001 National Theatre of Great Britain/Cameron Mackintosh production, a handsome restaging of which is on view at the Opera House (through February 17), further sharpens the Shavian edge of this beloved musical, placing it in a grand swirl of the class-entrenched Edwardian era coming to an end. Director Trevor Nunn has in fact moved the story of tyrannical phonetician Henry Higgins and the cockney flower girl he hopes to whittle into a duchess back just a few years to 1910, when Edward VII went the way of Mozart.

British classical-theater directors seem to have an affinity for American musicals. Despite being one of the parties responsible for Cats, former Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre honcho Nunn has staged much-lauded revivals of Oklahoma! and South Pacific as well as this elegant My Fair Lady with its deep bows to the British music hall and a landscape that encompasses not just the muck of Covent Garden and the street where Eliza Doolittle lives but the London Underground and a passel of suffragettes. The production design by Anthony Ward takes the high, arched architecture of Covent Garden and makes it do for Higgins’s book-shelved fortress of a library and, with its supports lit up like strips of footlights, the Embassy ball where the made-over Eliza, an erect and glittering swan, makes her Cinderella entrance into society. Speaking of Tchaikovsky’s favorite water bird: the choreography is by multiple Olivier and Tony Award winner Matthew Bourne, who crosses “With a Little Bit of Luck” with Stomp and “Ascot Gavotte” with Equus. The big dance numbers are rife with jigging, prancing, and social satire, but don’t look for furry-muscled male swans gliding up the Thames.

This production has been heralded as a reinvention, which it’s not, and that’s a good thing. After all, you begin with the advantage that My Fair Lady is one of the best and brainiest musicals there is. Shaw’s pointed tale of the guttersnipe transformed by genteel speech and deportment into the outward, deracinated embodiment of a lady is irresistible in both its elocutionary process and its poignant demonstration that (as GBS would have it) the true difference between a flower seller and a grande dame is not in her behavior but in how she is treated. Then you throw in the luxurious score, which runs the gamut from the swoony “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “On the Street Where You Live” to Higgins’s splenetic, Rex Harrison–inspired talk songs to the chirp of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”, the ebullient tango of “The Rain in Spain,” and the life-force friskiness of “Get Me to the Church on Time” — this last rendered here as a wild ride of a bachelor’s debauch that takes Alfred P. Doolittle and his cockney cohort from the barroom to a girlie show to the street, the undulating groom-to-be ultimately as liquid as the hooch inside him.

1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
Related: Luverly enough, Wetherlaine’s, In proper style, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Entertainment, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, James Carville,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY CAROLYN CLAY
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   ARTSEMERSON'S METAMORPHOSIS  |  February 28, 2013
    Gisli Örn Garðarsson’s Gregor Samsa is the best-looking bug you will ever see — more likely to give you goosebumps than make your skin crawl.
  •   CLEARING THE AIR WITH STRONG LUNGS AT NEW REP  |  February 27, 2013
    Lungs may not take your breath away, but it's an intelligent juggernaut of a comedy about sex, trust, and just how many people ought to be allowed to blow carbon into Earth's moribund atmosphere.
  •   MORMONS, MURDERERS, AND MARINERS: 10 THEATER SENSATIONS COMING TO BOSTON STAGES THIS SPRING  |  February 28, 2013
    Mitt Romney did his Mormon mission in France. But there are no baguettes or croissants to dip into the lukewarm proselytizing of bumbling elders Price and Cunningham, two young men sent by the Church of Latter-day Saints to convert the unfaithful of a Ugandan backwater in The Book of Mormon .
  •   THE HUMAN STAIN: LIFE AND DEATH IN MIDDLETOWN  |  February 22, 2013
    The New York Times dubbed Will Eno a “Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.”
  •   ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY'S LIFE OF RILEY  |  February 22, 2013
    Sir Alan Ayckbourn has written more than 70 plays, most of which turn on an intricate trick of chronology or geography.

 See all articles by: CAROLYN CLAY