Theatre Review: “My Fair Lady”
Take a breather from the Black Friday frenzy and the holiday shopping – treat your family to Barksdale Theatre’s My Fair Lady. Bruce Miller’s graceful direction keeps this musical close to the 1964 film version, starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. But, with exquisite casting and subtle choices, he’s added distinction to this revival, marking the centennial anniversary of the opening of the historic Empire Theatre in downtown Richmond.
He’s replaced the pit orchestra with a duo of grand pianos. It’s a smart choice – requiring the ensemble of 14 to harmonize with candor and sing lyrically, noteworthy was the barbershop quartet in “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly.” The two pianists play Frederick Loewe’s score with lovely melody. He ends the performance wrapped in holiday warmth, decorating scenic designer Brian C. Barker’s Edwardian set with Christmas wreaths and garland. I loved the zooming in and out effect of Professor Henry Higgins’ (Joe Inscoe) oaken library for added formidability.
Miller has placed a meticulous emphasis on the diction, including English cockney and upper-class accents, into the deft hands of dialect coaches Renina Hoblitz and Stacey Cabaj. This is important given the musical’s subject matter centers on Professor Higgins transforming Eliza Doolittle (Stacey Cabaj) from a common flower girl into an English Lady by improving her speech and rhetoric. I shared the sentiments of my companion that the accents were authentic.
My foot was tapping to the sounds of “With a Little Bit of Luck” and all its reprises. Jason Marks colors his character Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s common dustman father, with a show-stopping mix of flair and flamboyance. He’s about to enter the middle-class but that doesn’t subtract the uncommon spunk from his acting, heightened under Leslie Owens-Harrington’s choreography of energetic can-can moves and soiled men dancing with chimney sweeps.
As Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Ben Houghton, who also acts as the musical director, swept the pants off the audience with his golden poise and astounding voice in “On the Street Where You Live.” His rendition struck me with awe – get this gentleman on stage more often.
Joe Inscoe’s acting decidedly emphasizes Henry Higgins’ misogyny—he practically relishes any moment to disparage Eliza, and a couple of his blistering remarks caused the lady across the aisle from me to gasp at this verbal abuse—and balances his characterization as an ordinary man while being an extraordinary elitist with subtle thunder. Notice how he twitches his right hand in annoyance when he feels offended by Eliza’s impertinence and disappearance.
Stacey Cabaj looks smashing in Sue Griffin’s costume choices that range from flower girl rags to a duchess’s gown. She makes decidedly astute choices—oscillating between emotions in “Just You Wait,” the portrayal is a kinetic exercise of frustration, and she amps up the sensuality in “Show Me” with Ben Houghton. Her acting is assertive and eloquent.
The show runs 3 hours and 15 minutes, and one quibble is that “Ascot Gavotte”—my favorite scene—felt rushed, but it was cute to stage the aristocratic spectators listening in on the conversation between Higgins and his mother, Mrs. Higgins (Suzanne Pollard), in disbelief. With a little bit of luck, the Lord above made man to see this show.
5 out of 5 Stars
“My Fair Lady” runs through January 8th, 2012 at the Empire Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.barksdalerichmond.org/
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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