By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review
Make no mistake: Cygnet Theatre has yet another musical comedy hit on its hands in Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s 1956 Broadway musical, “My Fair Lady,” which continues through April 26 in Old Town.
The classic musical was adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play and Gabriel Pascal’s 1938 motion picture, “Pygmalion.” Shaw (1856-1950) hated the idea of turning the work into a musical, and during his lifetime refused to allow it.
Director Sean Murray, who is artistic director of Cygnet Theatre, cast himself as Professor Henry Higgins, as he did when Cygnet was in Rolando. The role suits him to a tee and he plays it with great ease and understanding, singing much more than Rex Harrison, the original musical’s Henry.
Murray sets his production in 1936. One supposes fashions in 1936 take up much less room than those of an earlier era. Additionally, the show makes do with only 10 performers plus six exceptional instrumentalists (strings, keyboard, woodwinds, and percussion) including music director/conductor Patrick Marion.
Higgins encounters Eliza Doolittle (Allison Spratt Pearce, a soprano who loves singing) at Covent Garden, where she is a flower seller. The same evening he also encounters Colonel Pickering (Tom Stephenson), a fellow language expert. When Eliza’s cockney grows too much to bear, Higgins bets Pickering he could pass her off as a duchess if given six months to teach her proper speech. A ménage a trois ensues, with the two middle-aged men who have nothing but language in mind and a young woman intent on the promise of self improvement and independence (“I Could Have Danced All Night”).
Murray’s directorial secret involves excellence and depth of the company, something for which he’s strived but never before achieved to this degree. As one would expect, Ron Choularton delivers nicely in his reprise of Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s canny father, who against his will rises to the top as a homely philosopher (“Get Me to the Church on Time”). Also, Stephenson delivers quality in his reprise of the kindly Pickering.
Others in the company — experienced musical theater stalwarts all — are Bryan Banville, Katie Whalley Banville, Charles Evans, Jr. (as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who sings “On the Street Where You Live”), Ralph Johnson, Linda Libby (as Henry’s appalled mother) and Debra Wanger. All double, whether as Eliza’s Covent Garden friends, Doolittle’s drinking buddies or Ascot races aficionados. It’s an amazing array of talent splendidly utilized.
When it’s time for Eliza to have her own life, Higgins ruefully admits, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Whether Eliza, now a consort battleship, remains depends upon one’s interpretation of the amorphous, romantic ending. We know what Shaw would have said.
Adding to the enjoyment are scenic design by Andrew Hull, costume design by Jeanne Reith, lighting design by Chris Rynne, sound by Matt Lescault-Wood, wigs and make up by Peter Herman, and choreography by David Brannen. Syd Stevens is responsible for props. The hat Eliza wears for her initial arrival at Higgins’ is memorable — and so is it all.