My Fair Lady – Review by Nancy Sasso Janis

The tour of The Lincoln Center Theater Production of Lerner and Lowe’s “My Fair Lady” has stopped at the Bushell in Hartford as part of the Broadway Series.

I wasn’t sure that I would appreciate this long show, having only seen community theater productions in the past, but I loved almost everything about this production, as did the opening night audience. Keeping the 1912 London setting firmly in mind helps to make George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” story more enjoyable, although Bushnell President & CEO David R. Fay suggests that the classic is “newly infused with a modern sensibility.”

The beauty of this production begins with the opulent costumes and the massive set and runs through the quality of the performances, directed by a resident director at Lincoln Center Theater, Bartlett Sher. There is graceful choreography by Christopher Gattelli at the right times, and the lighting design of Donald Holder holds some delightful surprises.

Shereen Ahmed is an impressive Eliza Doolittle, the flower seller with a “loverly” open face who transforms into a regal lady. Ahmed, an Arab American actress who was the understudy for Eliza on Broadway, shows off her beautiful soprano voice in all of her numbers, with “Show Me” in the second act a highlight. Laird Mackintosh, who played the title role in “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway, brings a subtle charm to the role of the arrogant phonetics professor, Henry Higgins.

Sam Simahk (“Carousel” on Broadway) gives a heartfelt performance as Freddy, while Martin Fisher, who was part of “Grand Hotel” in New York, is quite delightful as Colonel Pickering. Leslie Alexander, who appeared on Broadway in “The Boy From Oz with Hugh Jackman, makes the most of the supporting role of Henry’s aristocratic mother. Lee Zarrett returns to the show in which he appeared on Broadway at Lincoln Center to play Professor Zoltan Karpathy.

The variety of costumes designed by Catherine Zuber is impressive, ranging from the well-worn clothes of the Londoners on the street to the magnificent ensembles (with lovely hair and wigs designed by Tom Watson) of the upper crust.

Everything worn by Mrs. Higgins is a work of art and the architecture of the red coat that covers Eliza’s ball gown is gorgeous. The majestic millinery of the ladies, featuring plenty of feathers, top the ensembles beautifully, notably in a club tent at Ascot for “Ascot Gavotte.” The ballroom scene that opens the second act is more colorful and just as impressive.

The set designed by Michael Yeargan is very impressive in both its scale and its details. The large main set piece rotates 360 degrees, with four distinct areas of Higgins’ London home. There was an issue with a large painting hanging near one of the staircases in the house on opening night. When it fell off the wall landing backwards on the stairs, the audience gasped and the cast members kept going. Alexander, as Pickering, climbed to the prop and wrestled it down the stairs and threw it aside to save the scene, because the staircase was soon to be used. The actors couldn’t help but giggle and Mackintosh as Higgins made an ad libbed comment that the painting was “only a copy.” The audience applauded the quick thinking of the cast and the prop hung in its correct space for the next scene in that section of the house.

The beautiful music of Frederick Loewe has never sounded better as performed by a handful of musicians on staff working with talented local musicians under the direction of musical director John Bell. The “Loverly” quartet has wonderful harmonies and all of the members of the large, multi-racial ensemble add so much to all of their scenes.

The show runs almost three hours with one 15-minute intermission. The tour is at the Bushnell through Sunday. Patrons attending the Saturday Matinee of My Fair Lady will be impacted by St. Patrick’s Day Parade road closures beginning at 9:30 am and ending at 2:30 pm. The Bushnell is still requiring proof of vaccination as well as ID, and masks are required at all times in the theater.