Lincoln Center’s highly acclaimed 2018 revival of the classic musical, “My Fair Lady,” is kicking off its national tour at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House, providing a sparkling treat during the holiday season. Under Bartlett Sher’s refreshing direction, this production of the 1957 Tony award-winning Lerner & Loewe musical (based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”) is as close to perfection as a musical can be – and also garnered numerous nominations and awards of its own.
“…is as close to perfection as a musical can be…”
Thankfully, this is not a “lite” tour version. The musical is done in the grand, Broadway tradition. The costumes by Catherine Zuber are breathtaking, as is the set design by Michael Yeargan, complemented by Donald Holder’s lighting design. The revolving and scrupulously detailed, Edwardian townhouse of Professor Higgins is utilized like one would a continuous shot in a film to brilliant effect in “Just You Wait” and “The Servants’ Chorus.” The ensemble is vocally tight and masters the exuberant choreography of Christopher Gattelli.
“My Fair Lady” is a battle of the sexes with England’s class system of the early 1900s as the backdrop. The snobbish, chauvinist Professor Henry Higgins takes Eliza Doolittle from a Cockney flower girl to a lady worthy of royalty in a bet with his new friend, Colonel Pickering. Shereen Ahmed is a fiercely strong and endearing Eliza Doolittle with a beautiful, powerful voice. (Interesting to note that Ahmed is somewhat of a local, with a degree from Towson University in Maryland – surprisingly not in theater but sociology and anthropology). Laird Mackintosh’s Higgins is younger and can actually sing. He gives the character new energy.
Higgins’ sidekick, Colonel Pickering (the wonderful Kevin Pariseau), and housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (the delightful Gayton Scott) are the only ones in the house who show Eliza any consideration instead of treating her simply a subject of an experiment as the professor does. As Eliza’s ne’er do well father Alfred, Adam Grupper is a charm and Sam Simahk is wonderful as the love-smitten Freddy Eynsford-Hill. The entire cast is spot on and a joy to watch.
The show clips along and the three hours fly by with hit after hit from this incredible score – “Wouldn’t it be Loverly?,” “With A Little Bit of Luck,” “Just You Wait,” “Without You” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” and of course, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” to name a few.
The issue (especially as a woman) has always been the ending. While Shaw deemed that Eliza and Higgins would not end up together, Lerner & Lowe, as did the film version, had a different idea. This is despite Eliza making a stand against Higgins’ misogynistic behavior and taking all the credit for her success – AND with the support of Higgins’ own mother (the grand Leslie Alexander). There is no doubt that each of the two characters has discovered surprising feelings for one and another. The production leaves the final outcome nebulous enough for the audience to decide.
I would not miss this one. “My Fair Lady” has truly brought Broadway to Washington, D.C.
Running Time: Three hours including a 15-minute intermission.
“My Fair Lady” runs through January 19, 2020, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566. Tickets & Information: (202) 467-4600 or go online.
For additional national tour dates and locations, click here.