My Fair Lady at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.

Music by Frederick Loewe.

Based on Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

Directed by Olivier Fedj.

Conductor: David Chase.

Broadway at Lyric Series.

At Civic Opera House, Chicago.

Distinctly British feel to the Lyric’s production of My Fair Lady.

I saw the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in the late 1950’s. The show left me wide-eyed and totally enthralled. Featuring witty lyrics, a lush score with marvellous melodies together with terrific comic moments, My Fair Lady just maybe the “perfect” musical—it sure has my vote (see list of the top musicals). My Fair Lady is one of those rare musicals that memories are made of—this Lyric Opera of Chicago production has enough of the look, feel and production elements to catapult me back to the original.  I also remember the Cameron Mackintosh’s 2008 National Tour, the Paramount Theatre production, and the two-piano version at Court Theatre among other Chicago productions of My Fair Lady.

The current production of My Fair Lady was initially directed by Robert Carsen for Paris’s Theatre de Chatelet with this “revival” being staged by Olivier Fredj. With British stars Richard E. Grant as Henry Higgins and Nicholas Le Prevost as Colonel Pickering, this Broadway at Lyric production as a ‘very British’ sensibility. Americans who play Higgins (Nathan M. Hosner, Kevin Gudhal, and Nick Sandys among others) give Higgins a sharper bitter edge than Britishers like Richard Grant do. That is not to say that Grant’s performance as Higgins wasn’t superb, it was. It’s just that he has  the English gentleness that American audiences are not used to.  Lisa O’Hare (who did the 2008 American tour produced by Cameron Mackintosh) was splendid as  Elisa as she sang well and presented a strong Elisa who stood up to Higgins effectively.

From the opening “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” we get a glimpse of the lower class English society as Eliza and the workers sing this well know show tune. The staging of that number and the subsequent show-stoppers were vividly striking, danced expertly and sung with fine harmonies. Later, we see the opulence of the English upper class nicely satirized in the “Ascot Gavotte” number and the embassy ball.  All the glitz and glamour are present in colorful period-perfect costumes (designed by Anthony Powell). The staging of the “Ascot Gavotte”  and the embassy ball were opulent and breathtaking!. More than a dozen Chicago actors have supporting roles in this production. Cindy Gold, Michael Joseph Mitchell, Carmen Roman, Bill McGough, Peggy Roeder, Jackson Evans, James Romney and David Lively among others played key supporting roles.

This ageless romantic musical comedy still holds up in the 21st Century with its powerful book, melodic score on stinging lyrics. Combine Bernard Shaw with Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe and you get a splendid evening of musical theatre.

Donald Maxwell was a hoot as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s heavy drinking and philosophical father. He was terrific in his two musical hall marches: “With A Little Bit of Luck” and the spectacular show-stopper dance number “Get  me to the Church on time.”  Bryce Pinkham nailed, with his rich tenor, the best song of the show “On the Street Where you  Live.”

This production’s ending is more in tune with Alan Jay Lerner’s Book of My Fair Lady than Shaw’s ending in Pygmalion. That works well since My Fair Lady was designed to be more of a romance that Pygmalion. One of the hurdles here was to create “almost-love songs” to enrich the musical with the right tone. Frederick Loewe’s score is considered one of the finest written for the stage. Conductor David Chase’s 40 member orchestra gave this music a richly deep sound that soared into our hearts.

Viewing this well-crafted production with the visually stunning show-stoppers, the rich vocals and the vivid costumes make this production a rare classic. Keep in mind at  2 hours, 55 minutes, this production contains all the elements of the original 1956 Broadway production. Young actors, directors and producers need to see this production to see that the little details can sure make a difference. The Lyric’s production is world class and one of the finest I have ever seen and I have seen many. This production sent me remembering  the original as I watched O’Hare sing “Wouldn’t It be Loverly?” Kudos to the Lyric Opera of Chicago for selecting My Fair Lady. How about Brigadoon in the next few years?

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams

Date Reviewed: May 4, 2017

For more info checkout the My Fair Lady page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Civic Opera House, 20 N Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL,  (312) 827-5600, https://www.lyricopera.org/, tickets $22 – $199,  for schedule: www.lyricopera.org/myfairlady, running time is 2 hours, 55 minutes with intermission, through   May  21, 2017.

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