note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
At Lyric Stage Company’s season opening production of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady,” enchantment pours out of every door when beautiful Jennifer Ellis is on stage. Her Cockney accent may be tough to wade through, but as common street flower vendor Eliza Doolittle, her dialect and speech pattern are supposed to be atrocious.
At any rate, the beautiful, versatile Ellis adds a layer of charm, determination, and pure enjoyment during her transformation from a 21-year-old ragamuffin with pride to a magnificent lady with charm. Award-winning set designer Janie E. Howland adds her own brand of charm and authenticity here, while Gail Astrid Buckley’s period costumes are sublimely historic.
Karen Perlow casts some snazzy lighting here, accompanied by Samuel Hanson’s sound effects.
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” Lerner and Loewe’s record-breaking, multiple award-winning Broadway musical that premiered in 1956, enjoyed revivals on the silver screen (think Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison) also on stage in 1976, 1981, 1993 and ongoing. Lyric’s visionary director Scott Edmiston has updated this version to the 1930s in London, and it works well. He classifies it as a chamber musical because of Lyric Theatre’s coziness.
Henry Higgins finds rough-around-the-edges, dirty flower girl Eliza Doolittle in the street at Covent Garden, London, and challenges his friend Col. Pickering that, within six weeks, he can convert “this guttersnipe” into an elegant duchess, in time to fool royalty and sophisticated gentry at the Embassy Ball. And he does.
Oh, the towering feeling, just watching this group cavort and sing; not only Ellis, but Jared Troilo, portraying Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who becomes smitten with the transformed Eliza. His soaring solo of “On the Street When You Live” and its reprise is one of the musical’s high points. So is Eliza’s triumph when she finally conquers her irritating speech patterns, in “The Rain in Spain,” not with “A Little Bit of Luck” like her errant dad, Alfred P. Doolittle manages, but through months of exhausting hard work. Portraying the wily Doolittle with a “gift of rhetoric,” JT Turner is ebullient, especially kicking up his heels in “Get Me To the Church on Time”.
Popular Boston actor Christopher Chew is a cruel taskmaster as haughty, snotty, stuffy phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, but it’s just lovely watching the stiff, staunch misogynist let loose and celebrate with Eliza, dancing proudly with her, when she “finally gets it”.
Ellis‘ starry-eyed rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” is charming.
And Chew’s heartfelt rendition of Higgins’ humbling, self-realizing “I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face” is moving.
Versatile Boston veteran favorite, Remo Airaldi adds fun portraying Henry’s wagering, kindly friend, Col. Pickering; North Shore’s marvelous Cheryl MacMahon is the portrait of sensibility as Higgins‘ efficient secretary, Mrs. Pearce and Beth Gotha is pragmatically gracious as Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins. The talented ensemble nicely revolves around Ellis, armed with David Connolly’s upbeat,uplifting choreography.
There’s pageantry here, too, especially in numbers “Ascot Gavotte,” Eliza’s first foray with the upper crust, while attending the horse races, then hollering her bloomin’ social faux pas. Opening second act number, “Embassy Waltz,” introduces a sleek, sophisticated Eliza to high society.
There are a few drawbacks here, though. While Music Director Catherine Stornetta on keyboard and two other musicians provide all orchestral accompaniment behind an onstage scrim, they sound thin in some songs.
The show is also longer than necessary, perhaps because of the several reprises, that are nicely done, but superfluous.
BOX INFO: Three-hour, two-act production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical, appearing at Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St., Boston, through Oct. 11: Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday matinee, Oct.7, at 2 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Check for related events. Tickets start at $25; seniors, $10 discount; student rush tickets, $10; group rates also. Call the Box Office at 617-585-5678 or visit lyricstage.com.