'My Fair Lady' review: Revived musical underwhelms in Detroit
Courtesy of Broadway In Detroit
The North American tour of Lincoln Center Theater’s revived production of Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady,” landed at the Detroit Opera House Tuesday night with a packed crowd ready to indulge in what they cherished about the story. Considering how beloved the Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison 1964 classic is (not to mention the adoration for George Bernard Shaw’s play and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture “Pygmalion”), it’s no surprise the Lincoln Center’s revival has found commercial success: the story of Eliza Doolittle’s transformation (or experiment) from an ill-mannered, thick accented “guttersnipe” to a well-spoken Duchess has resonated with audiences across the globe for decades and when you adjust for inflation, Hepburn’s “My Fair Lady” is one of the highest grossing movies of all time and the original 1956 Broadway show won 6 Tony Awards and was, at the time, the longest running musical in history.
So then why, with everything stacked in its favor, does the current tour seem misguided? It begins with an ensemble who struggle to enliven a nearly three-hour production where even if you know the music (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly”) the low-stakes energy and at times inaudible dialogue, thanks in no small part to horrendous sound mixing and questionable artistic choices, it makes for a long, tedious evening of theater.
The production is lead by Shereen Ahmed and Laird Mackintosh as Doolittle and Professor Higgins respectively, both doing major lifting playing the characters responsible for the shows beating heart. The performances require a certain degree of vocal dexterity and precise timing, and thankfully Ahmed and Mackintosh are no slouches, often finding tender moments of clarity amid the messiness. Themes on class, morality, and compassion aren’t lost on the viewer as Doolittle finds herself plucked from obscurity by Higgins, an esteemed linguist in London circa 1912, and must unravel her own insecurities in order to be fulfilled, but most of the chemistry among the two leads fails to elevate “My Fair Lady,” which is necessary when you’re asking audiences to go on the ride for 180-minutes.
Not helping matters is songs that should be guaranteed showstoppers (“With a Little Bit of Luck”) instead create confusion, cementing a hollow foundation the show can’t build upon. At least it’s fun watching Mackintosh emulate the Professor’s snobbish and misogynistic aura alongside Ahmed who sparkles in costume designer Catherine Zuber’s scene-stealing creations. Likewise, Kevin Pariseau is having a blast playing Professor Colonel Pickering, the unofficial referee caught between Higgins and Doolittle, with a daft smile and solid comedic delivery. Rounding out the cast is Grayton Scott who brings a Scottish brogue to Higgins’s housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, boosting morale and diversifying the accents. She helps make the performance of “You Did It,” the song which celebrates Eliza’s transition into high society, one of the production's few standouts.
Another noteworthy accolade belongs to Michael Yeargan’s impressive scenic design, which features a revolving mansion, placed on a swivel, that ebbs and flows seamlessly. The execution of an early montage, documenting a crucial point in Eliza’s journey, is a genius invention director Bartlett Sher doesn’t take for granted. While the scenery spins from exterior and interior locations on a dime, the ensemble stays busy, and watching maids clean and prep the kitchen or sneaking quick rendezvous with local constables as the set stays in motion adds good bits of background fodder. Plus, a pivotal scene where Eliza is introduced at the horse track as a “lady” for the first time brings its own moments of hilarity and textbook one-liners that are hard to resist.
“My Fair Lady” remains a staple because it’s always a keen reminder that change does not come without hard work and persistent dedication. This was the bedrock of what continues to attract masses and helped spawn several iconic pieces of pop culture including “Pretty Woman” and “She’s All That.” When all the elements work together (having Julie Andrews, Laura Benanti and Lauren Ambrose in the original lineup doesn’t hurt), “My Fair Lady” can transcend familiar and outdated troupes. Unfortunately, the current tour is missing the gamechanger and therefore left me feeling disappointed and looking for something to savor.
IF YOU GO
Performance times for the Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Lerner & Loewe’s MY FAIR LADY appearing July 12-24, 2022 at the Detroit Opera House located at 1526 Broadway, in Detroit are:
· Tuesday through Saturday evening performances at 8:00 p.m.
· Saturday & Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.
· Sunday evening performances at 7:30 p.m.
· Special Open Caption performance on Sunday, July 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster.