note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Oh, the towering feeling you get - that overpowering feeling - just to know North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly has kicked off its new season with a resplendent production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical, “My Fair Lady,” directed by Charles Repole.
Although the in-the-round stage is generally sparse, scenic designer Howard C. Jones’ London skyline, suspended around the perimeter, changes hues with Jack Mehler’s dramatic lighting. It also assures ample room for Michael Lichtefeld’s fantastic, choreography. Gail Baldoni’s costumes are magnificent, especially during the Ascot Races and Eliza Doolittle’s ultimate metamorphosis at a regal gala. She and the entire cast are breathtakingly loverly. Adding an elegant flair are co-stars Charles Shaughnessy as sarcastically cruel-misogynist-confirmed bachelor Professor Henry Higgins, who teaches phoneticism, the King’s English and ladylike demeanor to a dirty, common flower girl, (popular stage star Lisa O’Hare reprises her multi-award winning role at NSMT).
O’Hare is a most delightful, feisty 21-year-old, Eliza Doolittle, as she metamorphoses from unintelligible cockney street girl to a cultured, lovely young woman and fools the upper class gentry and royalty – except when she verbally slips at the Ascot racetrack and screams to her chosen horse, “Move yer bloomin’ arse!”
She’s thoroughly delightful when she finally “gets it,” after several grueling speech lessons, jubilantly singing “The Rain in Spain” then dancing with Higgins. She rejoices to the house staff, “I Could Have Danced All Night”. Shaughnessy, British star of TV series, “The Nanny,” wowed Ogunquit Theatre audiences last year as King Arthur in “Spamalot,” and has performed in several award-winning musicals, adding his own touch of class.
This record-breaking, multiple award-winning Broadway musical that premiered in 1956 and enjoyed revivals in the movies and several times on stage doesn’t lose its charm or become dated. Everyone loves its rags-to-riches theme and melodic, memorable music, which Music Director Craig Barna and Co. provide, without overpowering the singers. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” Lerner and Loewe’s songs continue to delight:“On the Street Where You Live,” “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly,” “The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “With a Little Bit of Luck,” which this cast performs divinely.
Although the first act is long, (1-1/2 hours), the cast keeps the audience satisfied with rollicking numbers and deft acting. Beautifully choreographed ensemble numbers enliven the pace, “with a little bit of luck,” and lots of youthful energy.
Although he sings well, Bill Dietrich as Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s ne-er-do-well, con man of a dad with a gift of “rhetoric,” (his speaking skills have a hint of veneer, says Higgins), he’s too sober for his liquor-soaked role. Sarah de Lima is outstanding as Henry’s refined, cultured mom, Mrs. Higgins, as is Peter Cormican as Higgins‘ wager buddy, General Pickering. And Hayden Tee’s fabulous tenor soars as Eliza’s smitten lover, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, hitting an all-time high in “On the Street Where You Live”.
The cast of 19 is rounded out by popular North Shore actress Cheryl McMahon as Higgins’ refined housemistress, Mrs. Pearce, and a talented, energetic ensemble.
Although Higgins had callously referred to Eliza as a guttersnipe and takes all the credit for turning her into an elegant duchess who fools royalty, he’s dejected when she suddenly leaves. He realizes he has grown accustomed to her face and is lost without her. The packed audience loves her, too, and appreciatively delivers a prolonged, standing ovation.
Two-act play, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Loewe, appearing through June 19 at North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT), 62 Dunham Road, Beverly. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets are $35-$65. Check subscription packages also. Call 978-232-7200 or visit www.nsmt.org or the Box Office.