In the intervening weeks since I saw an early preview of My Fair Lady, my regards for it have somewhat diminished. The things that stood out to me then, still do, and that's a good thing. But the things that sort of tickled the back of my mind as slightly bothersome then, have grown to full blown nagging issues. I'm hopeful that master director Bartlett Sher has made some needed improvements during the near-month since I saw it. Regardless, the show is in many ways a triumph, despite my qualms.
Catherine Zuber should probably get her Tony speech ready (Sher is her good luck charm; she's won 4 times with his shows). The "Ascot Gavotte" costumes alone make this worth seeing again. The sets are fabulous in every single scene, from the frequently moving forced perspective to the jaw-dropping Higgins manse - Michael Yeargan should probably get his Tony speech ready, too (the man knows how to fill the cavernous stage at the Beaumont, and has won two Tonys with Sher). Donald Holder's lighting is equally magnificent - the kind that even someone who doesn't understand lighting can recognize as excellent. And one would be remiss not to mention that the glorious score is being played by twenty-nine wonderful musicians under the talented baton of Ted Sperling. In short, this Sher show is technically top notch.
Performance-wise, the ensemble is excellent, moving easily between roles of both classes - key to the themes of the show - and to a person, each creates individualized background characters. Two of the supporting players also really stand out, especially notable because they are small roles. Linda Mugleston is a riot as the stern head housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. And there aren't adequate words for the absolutely delightful force of nature that is Diana Rigg, who, as Henry's mother, held court in every scene she was in like a queen. She was beyond wonderful.
|"The Rain in Spain"|
|Norbert Leo Butz|
Any production of this show hinges on the actors who play the My and the Fair Lady. Much has been made of the relative youth of Harry Hadden-Paton as Henry Higgins, and frankly, it doesn't really matter, other than it makes him seem like more of a spoiled brat, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But by and large, no real insights are gained by this casting or by the actor's performance. He's continually appropriate in the role, with no real missteps, but no real excitement, either. He sings the role slightly more than other Higgins I have seen, but even that doesn't do much to separate him from his predecessors. He's good, not great.
|Henry and Eliza: Hadden-Paton and Ambrose|
|"Get Me to the Church on Time"|
But for me, the biggest misstep of the evening was "Get Me to the Church On Time," a crowd-pleaser to be sure, even if it stuck out like a sore thumb as the sole "big Broadway dance number" in the show. Christopher Gattelli certainly puts his ensemble through a lot. It is impossibly busy - think "Master of the House" on steroids, oddly athletic - think every number in Newsies, and very loud - I'm not talking volume entirely here. While I appreciated the attention to detail with the Edwin Drood-ish ingenue-as-man character in the music hall setting, I found the totally unnecessary (and I'm not sure entirely accurate) full-on drag queens to be boorish. Gattelli doesn't have that much to do as this is not a dance show: even the ball is more about the dialogue than the waltz, and to dance during "Ascot Gavotte" would likely cause a riot. So I can see why he tried to pack a ton in this one number. But the lack of restraint here only points up the rather staid, ultimately dull pace of the rest.
The gorgeous score, played and sung so well, plus large scale sets and hundreds of lovely costumes will please the masses, and Ms. Ambrose alone makes this a must-see show. In fact, I left the show very happy. But the more I think about it, the more wilted this classic flower feels.
(Photos by J. Kyler, J. Marcus)