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MY FAIR LADY Festival Theatre/Shaw Festival
By
May 27, 2024, 22:19
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Shaw Festival
Through December 22
MY FAIR LADY Festival Theatre/Shaw Festival

By Augustine Warner

A sterling production of Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” shows how retrogressive this classic musical is today.
It’s tilted back a little since the male lead is a little weaker than usual and the female lead is a little stronger.
This is clearly the big show of the season for the Shaw Festival, with co-direction from Artistic Director Tim Carroll and Associate Artistic Director Kimberley Rampersad.
I saw it with a heavily female packed house in the Festival Theatre which drew constant applause, sometimes less of it than in other situations since Professor Henry Higgins (Tom Rooney) has some of the same attitudes toward women of Harvey Weinstein (and I say that as someone who knew him when we were both much younger).
Shaw gives big shows weeks of rehearsals and previews so when things open, they work and this one does.
Of course, it helps to have good people on stage, here, David Adams’ Alfred P. Doolittle and his “Cockney Quartet” buddies, J.J. Gerber, Gryphyn Karimloo and Graeme Kitagawa, along with the overall ensemble.
Rampersad choreographed the succession of amazing big production numbers.
The show is canon for the Shaw, since it’s based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.”
As most know, it’s the story of a cockney flower girl who works the old Covent Garden outside the Royal Opera House and the insufferable Higgins who studies languages and how they are spoken.
Eliza Doolittle (Kristi Frank) sees the linguist as the key to a better future for herself because he claims to be able to turn the flower girl into someone who can mix in the upper classes by teaching her to speak in the received pronunciation of the upper classes and be successful in running a flower shop.
Eliza and Higgins cut a deal for him to teach her how to speak and the professor makes a bet with another linguist, Colonel Hugh Pickering (David Alan Anderson), that he can teach her that pronunciation.
By verbally abusing her, Higgins succeeds, despite the flower girl pushing back at this psychological re-shaping.
That leads to two legendary set pieces, the music of the “Ascot Gavotte,” at Royal Ascot horse races Opening Day, where Eliza meets Higgins’ mother (Sharry Flett), and the embassy ball where those present believe she is an aristocrat or even a princess.
The result is Higgins winning his bet with Pickering and Eliza walking away from the linguist’s home.
That’s where the differences between the stage version of this story and the movie version show up.
You will have to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake to find out what happens.
In Frank, the co-directors have a wonderful Eliza Doolittle, while in Rooney they have an erratic Higgins whose vocal volume seems to vary throughout the production I saw.
The remainder of the cast is fine.
The cast is also working with a slightly larger orchestra than usual for Shaw musicals.
Of course, there is that marvelous Lerner and Loewe music.
Set designer Lorenzo Savoini has given the cast a wonderful performance space, framed by the theatrical version of the Covent Garden columns and beams.
I don’t know who works with the cast to rehearse getting sets and props on and off stage, working with the fly crews, but that helps the show move along.
“My Fair Lady” is a wonderful show, if you slide past the social attitudes toward women common in Shaw’s time, not acceptable today.

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