The Lyric Opera continues its Broadway at Lyric series, with the fifth installment in the series - My Fair Lady which opened on Saturday to a full house. The musical is based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and inspired by the Greek myth of Pygmalion, a sculptor who falls in love with his creation. The play and the musical translate this myth into the story of Henry Higgins and his “project” Eliza Doolittle. Eliza is a Cockney flower girl who has a run in with Higgins, a professor of phonetics, and Colonel Pickering, a fellow linguist in front of the Royal Opera House where Higgins brags that in six months he could turn Eliza into a lady by teaching her to speak proper English. Eliza takes him up on that challenge, and urged on by Pickering, they begin their lessons. Over time, Eliza’s speech improves and with some elegant new clothes she almost passes her first test at the Ascot Racecourse, and reaches her prime as the Embassy Ball where she fascinates the crowd and is asked to dance by the Crown Prince. Throughout their time together, Eliza starts to have feelings for Henry, but even after her spectacular showing at the ball, he barely gives her the time of day, focusing instead on how great of a job he did. Only after Eliza leaves, does he start to realize he may have actually developed feelings for her as well, thus falling for his “creation”.
As expected, the production is a massive one, worthy of the Lyric Opera, boasting a cast of 56 singers, dancers and actors. This allows for some excellent ensemble pieces which take over the stage with energy. Choreographer Lynne Page took on this large cast with enthusiasm, creating interesting, playful and engaging choreography which is the highlight of the show. One of the most impressive numbers is by far “Get Me to the Church on Time”. Donald Maxwell as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father, was excellent creating a loud and boisterous, yet endearing, character that leads this scene which is executed with precision and gusto.
The set design has its ups and downs. The Covent Garden tenement scenes are backed by a flat white on white backdrop and is only brought into a third dimension with the addition of some (also white) columns. While the large cast helps to liven up the Covent Garden setting during numbers like “With a Little Bit of Luck”, it leaves some colors and dimension to be desired. Higgins study on the other hand, while also based in shades of ivory, creates more on an interesting backdrop to indoor scenes, making use of the desk, chairs and various phonographs, as well as rows and rows of bookshelves and a second story to add dimension to the scenes set here.
Lisa O’Hare as Eliza is excellent and brings the role to life with her powerful voice and commanding stage presence. Her transformation throughout the show is believable and she carries the audience into the unexpected challenges that she faced as a result of her makeover. Richard E. Grant plays Henry Higgins opposite Eliza. While he perfectly captures the immaturity and poor manners of the ridiculously intelligent character, the role is played too over the top, with exaggerated movements that seem to flail around the stage at times. Nicolas Le Prevost as Colonel Pickering provides some good counter balances to Higgins and Bryce Pinkham as Freddy, Eliza’s enamored suitor, really shines in “On the Street Where You Live”.
Overall the production is strong, and has a huge presence, more due to its tremendous cast and elegant, colorful and sparkly costumes designed by Anthony Powell (which makes the scene at the Ball a joy to watch!) than the set or staging itself. With some exceptional performances bringing to life some very iconic songs, the good far outweighs the bad in this production of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady, directed by Olivier Fredj. My Fair Lady is running at the Lyric Opera through May 21st. For tickets and more show information visit https://www.lyricopera.org/.