MY FAIR LADY
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
“London Bridge is falling down, My fair lady’
There is a political significance to the children’s singing game called “London Bridge” -- a bridge where severed heads of rivals were once displayed on pikes. And, the refrain, “...my fair lady?” may well be a reference to the aristocracy, perhaps the Queen herself, and the continued breaking down and building up of England’s class structure. Social satirist George Bernard Shaw was well aware of the pretentiousness of English society, which oddly still exists, and poked fun at it when he wrote “Pygmalion.” The title of Shaw’s play was derived from Greek mythology and the ancient, original story was about a sculptor who falls in love with his female creation.
However, in “My Fair Lady,” which is successfully being revived at Summer Theatre of New Canaan (STONC) lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederic Lowe were mainly interested in their show’s entertainment value, not lessons in social philosophy. Therefore, in their musical what happens when a cockney, flower seller becomes the object of a bet and is transformed into a “fair lady” of British high society? Does it change her in any way? Does she become disillusioned or gratified to achieve higher social ranking? Does it change her mentor when he falls in love with her? Does it change anyone’s perspective on class and sexual boundaries? Does Eliza become a feminist? As far as the musical goes, the answer is debatable. In the end, Professor Higgins still demands his slippers and we are left to wonder if Eliza is willing to give into him.
A similar, ambiguous ending in Shaw’s “Pygmalion” became so controversial that it angered the playwright and caused him to write an introduction that limited directors from altering what he wrote. But, not to worry -- there’s nothing in this musical to scratch your head about. As social and sexual inequalities blend with lighthearted fun, STONC’S production of “My Fair Lady” is simply an evening of pure fun and entertainment.
Under the direction of Allegra Libonati, Jazmin Gorsline, who was Julie Jordan in last summer’s “Carousel,” plays an enchanting Eliza Doolittle, and Richard Willis, also a STONC veteran, looks like Richard Burton and rivals Rex Harrison’s mannerisms as Professor, Henry Higgins. Gorseline’s voice is exceptional and both stars have wonderful stage presence. We enjoyed Eliza’s “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Her social debut during the Ascot Races -- particularly when she forgot her new social standing and unexpectedly shouted at the horses, “Move your blooming arrsas!” is truly hilarious.
Gary Harger, gentlemanly plays Henry’s colleague, Col. Pickering. Sandy York is the professor’s reliable housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, Anna Holbrook is Henry’s concerned mother, Mrs. Higgins, and Christian Libonati is Eliza’s forlorn sweetheart, “Freddie.”
Brian Silliman, as Alfred Doolittle, renders the happiest highlights of the production. The place vibrates when he leads the ensemble in: “With a Little Bit of Luck,” and “Get me to the Church on Time.” Doug Shankman is credited for the show’s innovative choreography, particularly in the “Ascot Gavotte.” The period costumes, designed by Arthur Oliver, are delightful and very cleverly designed; rotating scenery is by Charles Pevarini. A wonderful, eight-piece orchestra under David Turner’s direction accompanies the show.
This enjoyable production, which is suitable for the entire family, takes place under an all-weather tent at Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT. You can order a delivered, boxed picnic beforehand and reserve side tables -- a great convenience. Take wraps for cool evenings. Parking is free.
Plays to July 7
This Review appears in “On CT & NY Theatre” June/2012