Lauren Ambrose plays the Cockney Flower Girl, who was named an aristocrat by Harry Hadden-Paton's Phonetic in the first Broadway revival in 25 years of the Lerner & Loewe classic.
The New York Lincoln Center Theater My Fair Lady has a breathtaking image when Lauren Ambrose appears as Eliza Doolittle, who has been transformed from the mean bastard to the royal stunner to attend the posh embassy ball. The client Catherine Zuber has wrapped her in a pale golden sheath that seems to merge with the actress's alabaster skin and copper-colored hair. As the servants help her into a voluminous ruby-red cloak, she looks like a baptismal rose in full bloom. Comparable pleasures intoxicate the eyes and ears of this magnificent staging by Bartlett Sher, a director who has proven to be one of the best at carving surprising nuances from vintage musicals. So why is the stately revival a little disappointment?
In part, it is due to the exceedingly high bar Sher has set up with LCT productions for South Pacific in 2008 and The King and I in 201
But My Fair Lady – with its roots in Pygmalion George Bernard Shaw's witty comedy about class, identity and sexual dynamism – is widely regarded and proves to be a near-perfect musical Sher's pervasive approach as something resistant.
In the run-up to this production, it was discussed in detail how the 1956 Lerner & Loewe classic would work in the current climate, with intensive attention being paid to the problems of gender inequality. The look of a bullying man who shapes a woman to his (and Edward's High Society) standards of sophisticated perfection and does not even reward her with providing the raw tone now seems more uncomfortable than ever. With zero changes to the text, Sher has taken these concerns on board, over tiny shades in the performances, subtle shifts in the balance of power, and a final visual statement that breaks through the fourth wall and enhances the ambiguity of the ending. Eliza, as the equal of her teacher, a self-possessed woman with the agency, marches into a future in which this difficult man, with whom she has nonetheless developed a deep mutual affection, may become marginalized or rather disappear
That is all good. The changes are small enough to go virtually unnoticed, but sufficiently considered to fuel the discussion among those who are convinced that this light-period piece has problems that need to be addressed. In addition, it is a polished production with a successful – albeit not spectacular – cast. But the cinematographic fluid of Sher's best work, which does not meet the immense Beaumont stage with a majestic breadth that is rarely achieved, does not come close. Nor does it approach the exciting emotional involvement of these earlier shows.
A significant factor is Sher's admirable refusal to over-strain his productions, as opposed to the aggressive norm for most musicals nowadays. The vocals in his shows have a natural, far more human sound that creates a fascinating intimacy when effortlessly singled out singers like Kelli O'Hara, Sher's leading actress in South Pacific and The King and I has . O & # 39; Hara sang the role of Eliza in a 2007 New York Philharmonic concert staging that those of us lucky enough to see will never forget. Her fluid soprano is such a rare instrument that it only seems to open her mouth and emit sounds created in the sky. Ambrose has a beautiful voice that lacks security or power, especially in the upper register. But unlike O & # 39; Hara; the original My Fair Lady Eliza, Julie Andrews; or even Marni Nixon, who set Audrey Hepburn's songs to life in the beloved 1964 film, does not fit in perfectly with the vocal demands of this role.
Ambrose affectionately remembered the eternally searching Claire Fisher about Alan Ball's brilliant reinvention of the dysfunctional drama family, Six Feet Under knows his way around on a stage. She was a fiery Julia opposite Oscar Isaac's Romeo in a 2007 Shakespeare in the Park production. But aside from her first song here, "Would not it be loverly?" – charmingly staged by Sher and choreographer Christopher Gattelli, with ravishing vocal harmonies and a warm-hearted sense of the working class – I found Ambrose's unrefined Eliza quacky and charmless, who blew off much of the early comedy. For me, she first grew into the role, when the "crushed cabbage leaf", as the phonetician Henry Higgins (Harry Hadden-Paton) calls her so unchristian, began to blossom.
Hadden-Paton, known as Lady Edith Heiliger Savior of the Last Hour on Downton Abbey is in many ways an excellent Professor Higgins, reasonably arrogant and dismissive of almost all in his orbit, but not without vulnerability, when his pride is pierced. He shows a playful sense of humor and does a good job with the vocal songs developed for nonsinger Rex Harrison, which is a welcome musicality to sometimes boring character numbers like "I'm an ordinary man" and "Why can not the English?" and the lively misogynist "song to him".
The unusual closeness of the two leads (Ambrose is 40 years old but younger, Hadden-Paton is 37 years old) works well, and there is convincing romantic chemistry in her quarrel. But I never felt fully invested in her as a character and always came back to the nagging suspicion that none of the performers has the star charisma to wear this show. For My Fair Lady to take you along, you must have fallen in love with Eliza to the point where you moan at Higgins rudeness but are ready to accept it. Rohdiamant shakes off the dust and starts to shine. When Eliza breaks through, finally conquering these annoying vowels and drifting around the room, singing with Higgins and his accomplice in their makeover experiment, "The Rain in Spain," Colonel Pickering (Allan Corduner) feels compelled. Corduner is a wonderful actor, but he's almost lost in the mix here.
The show's big sets are still effective. The "Ascot Gavotte" is an eye-catcher as well as a comic piece of jewelery, whereby Zuber listens to the iconic costume design by Cecil Beaton for the film in its stylish outfits for the icy foothills of the horse races. It's also a jolly visual joke that Eliza's ensemble was chosen for her test drive in the company of Higgins and Pickering without her advice, making her look like an inconveniently wrapped gift wrap in comparison to everyone else in her sharper, more subdued couture.
Ambrose is hilarious with her carefully practiced "How do you & # 39; s" and laboriously aspirated H & # 39; s. She's even funnier when Eliza upsets the starchy gathering by showing how much colorful spontaneity she can bring to the "safe" topics of weather and health. The priceless responses of Diana Rigg justify the venerable veteran's deluxe casting – a former Eliza herself in Pygmalion – in the small role of Henry's mother. "You're a pretty couple of babies playing with your living doll," says Mrs. Higgins with poppy impatience over her son and Pickering. Her sympathy and support for Eliza strengthens Shaw's proto-feminist currents as well as the suffragettes Sher marches across the stage.
Like the Ascot scene, the embassy ball is also enchanting. Elisa's slow glide of an entrance on the huge staircase is intriguing, not only because the butterfly has appeared so splendid, but because we know she is trembling inside. Manu Narayan is kept on a leash for too long to stop him, like Zoltan Karpathy, a disgusting former student of Higgins, who now claims to be unrivaled in aristocratic scams. But the spectacle of rolling a beaming Eliza around the room with a royal guest is just as beguiling as it should be. The choice of Sher and stage designer Michael Jahregan to bring the conductor and his 29-piece orchestra on stage for this sequence allows us to appreciate the unseen stars of the production.
About YeGan's Sets: The designer and the director have always worked together in close harmony, and it certainly gives a gagging impression when we first look at the main picture, a massive, detailed depiction of Henry's book-bound , two-story study. It's also on a turntable that leads us to other areas of the Wimpole Street Townhouse, from the bathroom where Eliza is being cleaned, to the main hall, where the servants walk up and down the stairs to a small courtyard niche. It's all too ingenious as Eliza stomps through the revolving house cursing her heartless host in "Just You Wait" or "The Servants' Chorus," as staunch housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (the faithful Linda Mugleston), The maids and lackeys mark the passage of time and walk around angrily as the experiment progresses with little success.
As impressive as it is, the considerable weight and mechanical logistics of such a monumental construction are associated with setbacks. The tedious movement of the scenery on each return to the house slows down the transitions to a crawl, and the very audible growl of his machinery is a distraction that kept taking me out of the story. It's like waiting between scenes until someone turns off an 18-wheeler.
Elsewhere, the sets are more mobile and sometimes bizarre, like the pub where Eliza's father, who is suddenly a wealthy garbage man and professional Mooker Alfred P. Doolittle (Norbert Leo Butz), trains with his drinking buddies and various can-can Dancing seams in the effervescent music hall number: "Bring me to church in time". As the dreaded morning of Alfred's wedding looms, that phrase turns and turns into a chapel on which a sinister cross rises, as if to bury him. Butz is an exuberant performer with an unruly spirit, both here and in his earlier "With a bit of luck," in which Alfred explains his shameless opportunism with a roguish clock that matches the sparkle in his eye. His English accent is a mess, but he gives a hard-working, hellishly, job of pumping air into production.
I always wished the revival to get off the ground without such Herculean efforts, especially in enthusiastic songs like Eliza's "I could have danced all night" or "On the road where you live", the serenade of hopeless Freddy ( Jordan Donica), the worshiper least likely to satisfy her. Both songs are performed with true fervor and vocal abilities, as well as Henry's reluctant admission of his feelings for Eliza: "I've gotten used to her face." But they miss the magic spark, the disappearance of the line between performer and role that would really transport the songs.
It is ungrateful to argue about one of history's most entertaining musicals, elegantly produced in an elegant manner, talented actor singers and a large orchestra play these great songs in the sumptuous original arrangements of Robert Russell Bennett and Phil Lang. But blame Sher. He is a master craftsman whose success has allowed to expect only a sublime revitalization.
Location: Vivian Beaumont Theater, New York
Cast: Lauren Ambrose, Harry Hadden-Paton, Norbert Leo Butz, Diana Rigg, Allan Corduner, Jordan Donica, Linda Mugleston, Manu Narayan
Director: Bartlett Sher
Choreographer: Christopher Gattelli
Book & Text: Alan Jay Lerner, adapted from the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion and the film by Gabriel Pascal
Music : Frederick Loewe
Stage Designer: Michael Jahregan
Costume Designer: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer: Donald Holder
Sound Designer: Marc Salzberg
Music Director: Ted Sperling
Musical Arrangements: Robert Russell Bennett, Phil Lang
Dance Arrangements: Trude Rittman
Presented by Lincoln Center Theater, in collaboration with Nederlander Presentations