Play: My Fair Lady
Group: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Nightly through July 13
Tickets: Free to $64; contact 314-534-1111 or The Muny box office
Story: Phonetics expert and all-around snob Henry Higgins observes a Cockney flower girl’s noticeable dialect while on the streets of London outside the opera house at Covent Garden. By happenstance he meets noted linguist Colonel Pickering, and the two middle-age bachelors place a wager as to whether Higgins can train the girl, Eliza Doolittle, sufficiently to pass her off as a duchess to the London society of 1912. With that training, though, the self-absorbed Higgins doesn’t count on the feelings of young Eliza, whom he regards as more of an experiment than a human being.
Highlights: Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, My Fair Lady won seven Tony Awards in its Broadway debut in 1956, and for years held the record of longest-running musical on the Great White Way. Its ninth production at The Muny, and first since 2001, is a glorious and meticulous presentation that seems almost like a time capsule from half a century ago.
Although three hours in length, The Muny’s production as directed by Harold Goldfaden moves at a very pleasant pace, and only near the end of the overly long first act (about 100 minutes) does it seem to bog down. As Goldfaden understands, though, this is one of the most literate of musicals, with expert, intelligent book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and lilting, effervescent music by Frederick Loewe. A cornucopia of memorable tunes, including Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? With a Little Bit of Luck, The Rain in Spain, I Could Have Danced All Night and On the Street Where You Live and the show’s pensive finale, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, move the story along crisply and melodically.
Other Info: Robert Westenberg is strong and consistent as the difficult Higgins. He chooses to half speak, half sing his tunes in the style of actor Rex Harrison, original star of the show and its movie incarnation, although it’s obvious Westenberg has a fine voice. Catherine Brunell is a thorough delight with both her acting and singing as Eliza, bringing both passion and pathos to the role.
There is an abundance of excellent supporting work from local performers, including Joneal Joplin as the befuddled Pickering, Zoe Vander Haar as Higgins’ exasperated socialite mother, James Anthony as both Higgins’ pompous student Zoltan Karpathy and one of Alfred Doolittle’s drinking cronies, Rich Pisarkiewicz as another buddy, Gary Glasgow as a weary bartender and Michelle Burdette-Elmore as both a working-class woman and a lady of society. Anthony Cummings has a grand time as Eliza’s delightfully decadent dustman father, Alfred, Laura Ackermann is solid as Higgins’ no-nonsense housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, and Daniel Reichard has fun as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the upper-class dandy who falls in love with Eliza.
The consistently strong presentation benefits from splendid musical direction by Jack Gaughan, a number of bright and colorful backdrops by scenic designer Steve Gilliam (with some wonderful gramophone props) well complemented by David Lander’s lighting and an array of Edwardian costumes courtesy of Kansas City Costume. It’s all accentuated by the sprightly and splendid choreography provided by Liza Gennaro.
Sure, My Fair Lady is a familiar chestnut, but a most welcome one when presented in such highly polished fashion.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.