The right notes
My Fair Lady
There is nothing new in the way Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company presents Lerner and Loewe’s Broadway musical My Fair Lady. With a classic like this, packed with well-loved hits and memorable lines, it would be easy to disappoint fans. Fortunately, this production’s lush settings, gorgeous costumes, impressive choreography and talented performers all combine for a show that does everything right.
The story is based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which was named for the character in Greek mythology who fell in love with one of his own statues. It’s a classic tale of misogyny and female objectification—quite a sad tale.
When unemotional phonetics professor Henry Higgins meets the “deliciously low” flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, on the streets of England’s Covent Garden, he is compelled by a colleague’s challenge to snatch her up, reform her street urchin ways, and try to pull one over on British high society by presenting her as a “lady.” The story offers plenty of nasty thematic threads for pulling: Does changing one’s outsides change her insides, too? What constitutes class? Can such a relationship ever be one of equal respect, trust and love? What happens when the roles are reversed and the “sculptor” begins to need the “sculpture”? And what will become of poor Eliza when she no longer fits into her old world, but can never truly fit into the new one either?
Talent abounds in this production, starting with the moment the curtain rises on the “guttersnipes” of Covent Garden. Here, the cast must show its chops with that devil of a cockney accent—clearly no mean feat—and from her first moments onstage as a poor flower girl, Hannah Eckert makes a loverly Eliza Doolittle. Her powerful voice masterfully ranges from operatic in “I Could Have Danced All Night” to nails-on-a-chalkboard-irritating during Higgins’ late night drills of “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.” Eckert gives the character great depth, cleverly masking deep pain and disillusionment with pluck and street smarts.
Kirk Gardner is actually quite funny as the humorless Higgins, and alongside Eckert the pair are strongly reminiscent of Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn, who, let’s face it, are never far from this audience’s mind or hearts.
Also worthy of special note is Brad Fitch as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, whose knockout voice, I overheard someone behind me say, induces chills with one of the show’s most beloved tunes, “On the Street Where You Live.”
While I’m at it, there are plenty of musicals out there that force you to sit through numerous dreary, unmemorable tunes in order to get to the tiny handfuls of hits. My Fair Lady isn’t one of these—it’s packed with hits, and this cast delivers the goods. They’re executed with splashy, often challenging choreography by Gina Kaskie Davis. I particularly enjoyed Alfie Doolittle’s number, “Get Me to the Church on Time,” a rousing, high-kicking number with a huge chorus.
The sets are spectacular. Take, for example, Higgins’ study. A large picture window in the center of the room features a stunning park view; it’s so pretty it’s sort of distracting, actually. Such opulence carries through into Hollywood-worthy costuming, complete with resplendent gowns, sparkling jewels and enormous hats.
Any problems I have with the show have nothing to do with the production. It’s long—maybe too long, with some scenes that seem to offer little to the story. And then there’s the ending, which I find puzzling and maddening.
Regardless, in sheer production scale as well as marvelously remaining true to the beloved original, this Fair Lady shines.