My Fair Lady, Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe, based on the play "Pygmalion" by George Bernard Shaw and the film by Gabriel Pascal. Directed by Frank Latson. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"None of your slum prudery!"
And so, chamber musicals come to Bennington, Vermont's Oldcastle Theatre Company. "My Fair Lady" with a small cast, a simple set and a single piano set upstage center has renovated this company that always does interesting plays with excellent casts playing to tiny audiences creating a demand for seats that have resulted in some sold out performances - something I have never witnessed before at either of this company's homes. Bravo! I am thrilled that a good show is getting a good attendance.
Considered to be one of the best Broadway musicals of the second half of the 20th century ("Gypsy" is the other top contender) it has an allure that cannot be bettered. Fortunately Oldcastle also has a cast that turns in top-notch performances. The four most intimately concerned principal characters are played by actors who only play one role each while the balance of the company, including the unique and always interesting Christine Decker (she plays Mrs. Higgins), double and triple in other parts.
As Decker's son, Professor Henry Higgins, the company has brought in Scott McGowan who takes a more musical look at the songs he sings and performs them skillfully and beautifully and uses their tuneful characteristics to enhance the character's lack of charm with a great deal of that quality. McGowan brings an honest humanity to the clinical professor's demeanor and it works nicely throughout the show. We can hear and see how distasteful a man Higgins is, a prig, really, and not so much a gentle man as a gentleman. But when he sings and dances the other side of Higgins emerges and it is easy to understand how an independent woman like Eliza Doolittle could fall in love with him. He's also handsome, which helps.
As his partner in the crime of education of the lower class woman, Eliza, is Colonel Pickering played ebulliently by Peter Langstaff. Never the complete fool, Langstaff's Pickering is a man who comprehends the difficulties Higgins faces with Eliza. He serves as both sounding board and springboard for all that happens in this play and Langstaff handles that confusion of responses very well.
Richard Howe takes the role of Alfred P. Doolittle, dustman and rapscallion whose sense of morality is perfectly original and is his ultimate undoing. Howe is lovely in the part of Eliza's boozer of a father and he brings a wonderful reality to the part and to the playing of the show.
As played by Emma Ritchie Eliza Doolittle, flower purveyor in Covent Garden, is a loud, shrill, dirty and unpleasant woman who must make a major effort to become the sweetly sophisticated "lady" of the title. I found her early scenes hard to take, but the eventual transition was lovely to see and hear and her final scenes were especially thrilling as she moved to and fro between what she had learned and what she had always known.
Among the company was an excellent Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper and moral compass, played by Trudi Posey. There was also the tenor character, Freddy Eynsford-Hill played to the hilt by Christopher Garcia and, of course, Christine Decker's Mrs. Higgins. She played this character with Maggie Smith-like diction and facial quirks, Joan Plowright's spine and walk, and her own very special quality of making sense sound like mischief and tomfoolery appearing as formality.
The Musical Director in this production is placed upstage center for the entire show at a lovely baby grand piano at which he pours and drinks tea, watches exits and entrances and plays the piano whenever someone wants to sing. He plays it very well. His name is Tim Howard. He is the orchestra, a character and part of the design of the City of London apparently.
The set is the work of Wm. John Aupperlee, the lighting the work of Dave Groupe, and the costumes are by Phyllis Chapman (courtesy of Cecil Beaton whose originals are mimicked often in this production).
The lack of production photos until Monday morning of this week delayed this review by nearly a week and there isn't much time left to see the show. I hope if you are inspired to find your way to downtown Bennington you will find a ticket waiting for you. I do hope so.
My Fair Lady plays at Oldcastle Theatre Company at 331 Main Street in Bennington, Vermont through this weekend. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-447-0564 or go on line at www.oldcastletheatre.org.