Produced by: Broadway By The Bay
Featuring: Samantha Williams (Eliza Doolittle), Scott A. Solomon (Henry Higgins), Praveen Ramesh (Colonel Pickering), Sergey Khalikulov (Freddy Eynsford-Hill), Gary Stanford (Alfred P. Doolittle), Karen DeHart (Mrs. Higgins), Kristina Hudelson (Mrs. Pearce), Joseph Hudelson (Zoltan Karpathy) and Leslie Lloyd (Mrs. Eynsford-Hill)
Directed by: Kenneth Savage
Running time: 150 minutes, one intermission
When: June 5-21, 2015
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway Street, Redwood City, California
Tickets: $47-$69. Call 650-579-5565 or visit broadwaybythebay.org
stages 'My Fair Lady'
"My Fair Lady" may hold the record for having the most songs that are sung by audience members on their way out of the theater.
If they aren't singing "Get Me to the Church on Time," they are singing "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," or "I Could Have Danced All Night," or "Just You Wait" or "On the Street Where You Live" or "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" or "The Rain in Spain."
Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," music by Frederick Loewe. The story of a rude-speaking Cockney flower girl, Eliza, who is taken on by phonetics teacher Professor Henry Higgins, on a bet, that he can turn her into a well-spoken woman who could appear in court.
Had he lived to see it, Shaw almost certainly would have hated "My Fair Lady" when it debuted on Broadway in 1956. Not because of the music I have no idea what he would have thought of the music but because of the ending.
Shaw wrote "Pygmalion" to celebrate Eliza's emancipation. She learns from Higgins and from Colonel Pickering and from Higgins mother how to behave, sure, but she also learns that she matters. From gutter to court, she is a fine human being, and that is part of Shaw's point, I think. At the end of the play, he wanted Eliza to "retain her pride and triumph to the end," as he wrote in 1920. He wanted Eliza to refuse to run Higgins' petty errands, and he wanted Higgins to be proud of the strong woman he had helped to awaken in the flower girl.
Producer and actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, in 1914 or so, changed the original last act of "Pygmalion" to make it more of a "happy ending" for Eliza and Higgins. When it became the musical, the ending was even more changed, to give the audience hope that the eternally arrogant and insufferable Higgins has actually won not only Eliza's love, but also her subservience.
Instead of independently going off to her father's wedding, and to make a life for herself with Freddy Eynsford-Hill, she returns to Higgins, who demands his slippers (which she had earlier thrown at him).
Happy ending, indeed, unless you're hoping the woman would stand up for herself.
It's my theory that Shaw was cremated, so him spinning in his grave would not disturb the neighbors in Ayot St. Lawrence, in Hertfordshire, England.
One of the reasons I mention all this history is the way the current Broadway By The Bay production ends at the Fox Theatre. Eliza grandly stands up for herself against Higgins' insults, then goes off with Professor Higgins' mother to attend her father's marriage. Higgins, alone, has his epiphany about having grown accustomed to her face, and then in a very brief moment Eliza appears out of the dark at stage right, walking toward the light of Higgins' flat, and he asks her for his slippers. The end.
So, she leaves the darkness of her emancipated life for the brightness of serving Higgins.
Ugh. I don't like it.
Still, there is a lot to like about this production, starting with the fine delivery of those previously mentioned songs by a strong cast of singers, and a pretty good pit orchestra. (The pit orchestra did get a little wheezy and off-key occasionally.)
Samantha Williams, a Stanford student, is a fine Eliza, except maybe she is a little too precise and too operatic with her vocals. I am guessing that she delivers every note at the precise pitch and timing as written by Loewe. She might be more appealing with her singing if she loosened up just a bit. She moves wonderfully, and it is a joy to watch her dance. She does great with the Cockney speech and with the upper-class British intonations she learns from Higgins. Her bit of reciting the vowels ("Aye! A!! Aye! Ohh! Ooh!") is hilarious.
Scott Soloman is a good Henry Higgins. He brings the insufferable snob to full life, right there on that huge stage. (He was also excellent in "Eurydice" recently at Palo Alto Players.)
Praveen Ramesh is quite good in all respects as Colonel Pickering, including with some modest comedy bits. Good actor, good singer.
Karen DeHart almost steals the show with her brief appearances as Mrs. Higgins. She is not happy to see her son at Ascot. "Whenever he meets my friends," she says, " I never see them again." Her line readings are excellent and fun.
For pure musical fun, my favorite performer in this production may be Gary Stanford Jr. as Alfred P. Doolittle. He's a good singer and his movement as the crafty old man is a joy to watch. He could supplant John Cleese as Minister of Silly Walks.
The ensemble singing is a joy, with multi-part harmonies improving a number of tunes. Very good ensemble in this show.
The scenic design by Annie Dauber is very impressive, at least at first. What the director calls "our stunning crystal palace which doubles as a rigid glass cage" towers into the flies, looking like a giant bird cage perhaps modeled on the San Francisco Arboretum (but not so much on Covent Garden, where the opening scene supposedly takes place). Some lights and some drapes drop down to help part of it become Higgins study.
Later it is Ascot and various other places. I got a little tired of looking at it after a while, and felt it diminished the actors too much on that giant stage, and accomplished too little.
Better lighting, or maybe some backdrops behind it might have helped quite a bit.
The costumes, but Valerie Emmi, are wonderful, and bring us clearly to 1912 London.
My biggest problem with "My Fair Lady" is that by today's standards it's rather old and stodgy and slow, despite all those wonderful songs. In the last 60 years, the musical has evolved into a form that tends to be faster paced and more exciting. And, that often doesn't miss the chance to make a point, even if the audience does want a more romantic ending.
Email John Orr at email@example.com