My Fair Lady is one of my favorite musicals (and I don't like a whole lot of musicals).
I know the film by heart. I watched it a couple of times a week in high school and a few times a year since then.
So I was excited to discover it on the bill for Light Opera Oklahoma's 2009 season. LOOK consistently delivers fantastic performances, year after year, during the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's SummerStage Festival.
(My favorite of these performances was Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street two years ago.)
The company draws talented professional singers from all over the U.S. to play in polished performances. Its production of My Fair Lady was no exception to this rule, but my inability to keep the film from playing in my mind, and from comparing that to what I saw on stage, while I watched hampered my enjoyment of the musical.
Andrea Leap, a returning LOOK favorite, leads the cast as Eliza Dootlittle, a Cockney flower girl who happens upon a renowned English phoneticist, Henry Higgins (Ron Loyd), one evening outside an opera house. As she attempts to sell her flowers to elite passersby, a fellow peasant warns her that a cop is taking down every word she says.
Immediately defensive, Eliza exclaims, insisting to everyone around her, "I'm a good girl, I am."
It is soon revealed that the eavesdropper is not a police officer but Higgins, listening to her dialect and those of the folks milling around her, precisely naming their birthplaces, current residences and any other place they've spent any length of time.
He brags to a gentleman on the street, who happens to be Colonel Pickering (Christian Elser), a fellow linguist specializing in Indian dialect who's come to England to meet Higgins, that, in only six months, he can train Eliza to speak properly enough to pass as the Queen of Sheba--or a duchess at least. With a more deliberate tongue, he supposes, she could earn herself a position in a flower shop, which would be much more respectable than selling flowers in the street.
Eliza overhears his claim and, the following day, after a run-in with her scheming, scoundrel father (Patrick Jacobs), Eliza visits Higgins in his home to take him up on his offer.
He agrees to take her in, solely based on his desire to prove his skill as a teacher and win a wager with Pickering. They keep long hours, Higgins forcing Eliza to repeat her vowels well into the night, willing her to pronounce them correctly.
Finally, she does, and before taking her to the Embassy Ball, for what will be the ultimate test in her newfound linguistic skills, they decide to try her out in a more casual setting: The Ascot Racecourse on opening day.
Though she talks about all the wrong things, she discusses them nearly perfectly, prompting a young heir, Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Patrick Howle) to swoon.
When Higgins and Pickering do finally take her to the Embassy Ball, she not only passes herself off as a lady, but a former student of Higgins' declares her a Hungarian princess.
Higgins and Pickering congratulate themselves on their accomplishment, all but forgetting about Eliza completely, and she wonders what is to become of her now that she's so transformed.
She can't return to her home, and she fears that she won't be able to make a new life for herself. Angry with Higgins, she storms out of his house, and he discovers that he is surprisingly sorrowful at her absence.
Obviously, they are in love, and, in the end, Eliza returns to him.
Leap was lovely as Eliza--charming, with a beautiful voice.
Loyd was exceptional as Higgins and probably my favorite performer of the evening.
His gorgeous, booming voice was accentuated by fine acting. His portrayal of Higgins as a cantankerous but loveable bachelor was spot-on. Elser, as Pickering, was also a joy to watch.
Jacobs, as Afred P. Doolittle, was an audience favorite.
I like the minimalist approach to the set, designed by Thom Bumblauskas, and the director (Eric Gibson) and actors used the stage well. At times, the dance numbers, choreographed by Laura Tyson, came off as awkward and unnatural; however, "Ascott Gavotte" was perfectly designed and directed.
The musical, based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, sports music by Frederick Loewe and a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.
The play was first produced in New Haven at the Shubert Theatre. It opened March 15, 1956, at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in Manhattan, following a short run at the Erlanger Theatre in Philadelphia.
It ran for 2,717 performances on Broadway and proved to be Julie Andrews' break-out role.
LOOK continues its run of the show in the John H. Williams Theatre of the Tulsa PAC, 110 E. Second St., June 19, 20, 21, 26, 27 and July 5. On July 9, it plays the Coleman Theatre in Miami, on July 10 in Okmulgee, on July 12 in Lawton and July 14 in Pryor.
Tickets to the PAC shows are $15 and available at 596-7111. For more, go to www.tulsapac.com or www.lightoperaok.org.
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