Mainly in the plain
My Fair Lady
My Fair Lady is a Nescafé frothé—sweet, light and bubbly. There’s no pretense in this classic musical; it’s all about entertainment. It’s not experimental; it’s not existential; it’s simply lovely. Or loverly, if you’re into Cockney flower-seller speak.
As with other Runaway Stage Productions musicals, this rendition of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady is quite sparse in props, staging and flash, but lush in heart and enthusiasm. It even has a live orchestra to back it up—a welcome addition, though the mostly young musicians are equipped with more enthusiasm than correct notes. But because even Sacramento Ballet’s Nutcracker has ditched its live orchestra, it’s a rare chance to see, and have young audiences witness, the marriage between music and theater.
Runaway has assembled first-rate talent for its first-tier actors, and earnest singers and dancers for the backgrounders. And, of course, all of them are armed with one of the classiest musicals around—a good, solid story backed by singable, memorable tunes.
Taken from George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the musical My Fair Lady opens with poor English flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Pheonix Vaughn) trying to push petals onto an esteemed passerby—the linguist Professor Henry Higgins (Jim Lane). Eliza’s heavy Cockney accent and goofy grammar grates Higgins’ gears—“by law, she should be taken out and hung, for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.” But his friend Colonel Pickering (Joel Ellinwood) sees the ultimate challenge. The colonel bets the professor that he can’t change Eliza from a street urchin into a society lady. The professor takes the challenge, and the bet is on, with diction and manner lessons aplenty. But, as it turns out, the professor has a lot to learn himself in matters of the heart and mind.
My Fair Lady is blooming with great musical numbers, witty and whistle-friendly—“Why Can’t the English,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “With a Little Bit O’ Luck,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” It’s armed with old-fashioned charm, old-school chauvinism and overall showbiz razzmatazz.
The three leads—Vaughn, Lane and Ellinwood—have great chemistry, timing and musical voices and make a true team. Other standouts are Jason Stevens as suitor Freddy; Brian McCann as Eliza’s dad, Alfred; and Bob Baxter and Brad Rupp as Alfred’s comedic sidekicks. The costumes are handsome, especially the black-and-white Ascot scene.
After a strong beginning, the second half loses steam, with the cast lagging in energy and the orchestra misplacing timing and notes. But, in the end, this is a collaborative effort of true musical lovers, by true musical lovers for true musical lovers.