Thursday, March 23, 2023

Broadway tour of "My Fair Lady" at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts

The 2018 Broadway revival of the beloved Lerner and Loewe classic My Fair Lady ran for a little over a year and was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning Best Costume Design. The tour is back in the Twin Cities for the second time, but I missed it the first time around, so I was more than happy to spend a loverly evening at the Ordway with this luscious production. While a little dated, the musical "deals with issues of class, gender, societal expectations, and the intersection of wealth and power" (to quote myself). And this production, directed by the legendary Bartlett Sher, is fully aware of all of that, with some thorny conversations about those topics between its two main characters. I wish it were shorter (three hours is tough to sit through no matter the show), but I can't think of what I would cut because even the songs that have little to do with the plot (e.g., Eliza's dad's songs) are so much fun it's hard to imagine parting with any of them. If you haven't yet seen this new production and have a fondness for My Fair Lady, you'll definitely want to check out one of the four remaining performances (limited tickets remain).

The obligatory plot summary seems unnecessary; I'm sure everyone's familiar with the story. And even if you think you aren't, you know it. It's been retold many times, from the original Shaw play Pygmalion, to the Julia Roberts movie Pretty Woman. A gentleman takes a lower class woman and transforms her into a "lady." In this case, the gentleman is Professor Henry Higgins, who studies phonetics and is intrigued by "flower girl" Eliza's poor accent, and makes a bet with his colleague Colonel Pickering that he can transform her into a lady in six months time. Eliza does indeed learn to be a "lady," but retains her spirit and even teaches 'Enry 'Iggins a bit about being a human being in the process.*

Highlights of this production include:

  • the fabulous trio (Jonathan Grunert, Madeline Powell, and 
    John Adkison, photo by Jeremy Daniel)
    A red-headed Eliza! Maybe it's thanks to the casting of Lauren Ambrose in the 2018 revival, but I'm thrilled to see the rare red-headed heroine in a musical. And Madeline Powell fits the bill not just because of her hair color, but also because of her spirit and spunk, and her gorgeous voice that effortlessly flows from Cockney phrases to stunning soprano.
  • A younger Henry Higgins. More socially awkward Sheldon Cooper than creepy older man crushing on a young woman, the age-appropriateness makes the potential romance between Henry and Eliza much more palatable. Jonathan Grunert is a delight in the role which only allows a few opportunities to show off his beautiful voice (the show being famously written for the non-singer Rex Harrison).
  • A huge and talented ensemble. Most of them play multiple roles in multiple costumes, with wonderful turns by John Adkison as the charming Colonel Pickering, Madeline Brennan as Henry's no-nonsense maid with some serious Mrs. Hughes vibes, and Michael Hegarty as Eliza's lovable rapscallion of a father.
  • The positively divine period costumes. And the Tonys agree with me; Catherine Zuber won a Tony for this stunning and seemingly endless array of gorgeous gowns, smart suits, and working class Londoner wear. The racetrack scene is a highlight, with hats larger that seem possible to keep on one's head, dresses and suits in softly muted shades of gray, blue and lavender. Eliza herself wears more than a dozen costumes, each more loverly than the last.
  • The inventive set. Designer Michael Yeargan employs multiple painted backdrops, scrims, and screens to create the various London locations, with charming two-dimensional set pieces moved around by the cast. Professor Higgins' study is the only 3D space, residing at the back of the stage behind a scrim and smoothy moved forward. The cast sometimes steps right off the street and into the study set, allowing for smoother transitions.
  • The dancing! From classic ballroom to the uproarious "Get Me to the Church" scene, it's a treat to watch this talented ensemble performing Christopher Gattelli's choreography, even to the graceful movement of set pieces on and off stage.
  • Last but not least - this beloved score. Played by a 10-piece pit orchestra conducted by David Andrews Rogers (with Musical Supervision by Ted Sperling), and sung with gorgeous harmonies by the ensemble, this classic score comes to life in a way no recording can.
This short run of My Fair Lady closes on Saturday, so if you're interested - get you to the theater on time! Click here for info and tickets.

I could have danced all night! (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

*Plot summary borrowed from my previous reviews of other productions.