Lyric Opera MY FAIR LADY Review— Lerner & Loewe Classic

Lyric Opera Mounts a Classic Musical

One imagines that when the Lyric Opera was considering its options for programming what is now their standard season slot for a Broadway musical, My Fair Lady, was a bulletproof choice. How can you not recommend one go to see and hear a musical that would get on nearly every shortest of short lists of top musicals since the genre’s incarnation?

Some might argue that this or other production of this classic musical is superior or inferior. To this writer, Lerner & Loewe’s 1956 classic stands on its brilliance no matter what.   The local high school or the Lyric Opera—it’s worth your time.

From Shaw's Pygmalion

An adaptation of keen eyed social critic George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, it tells the story of how an egotistical and eccentric upper class linguistics expert, Henry Higgins, takes on a wager to transform a Cockney-accented flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into a well-spoken lady whose diction will allow her to transcend the rigid class system of British society.   Lerner & Loewe add the requisite romance to their well-told musical story with such finesse that most of us will be swept along, not paying much mind to Eliza’s insanity or masochism that would compel her to fall for such a misogynistic conceited snob.

Lyric Opera MY FAIR LADY
The Cockney Quartet's sweet singing intro to "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" is pure delight. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

It’s All About the Music

From the opening notes of the overture we hear a rendition that has more brass sound than one might have recorded in our minds’ ear. The audience gasped and applauded as the curtain came up on a scene of an opera house exterior, not totally unlike the scene outside the Lyric’s doors. The opening, and also later scenes in this production, have a somewhat surprising amount of dialogue with true-to-Shaw pacing.

Both one-time dancer Lisa O’Hare as Eliza Doolittle and Richard E. Grant as Henry Higgins bring a very physical dimension to their performance that helps them project their lines and characters to the balconies of the opera hall.

Lyric Opera MY FAIR LADY
The two leads--Lisa O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle and Richard E. Grant as Henry Higgins-- bring a physicality to their acting that works well in the Opera house. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

This was especially a boon on the opening night performance, when there was an unevenness in the microphones that will no doubt be addressed in short order.

In fact, it could be that technicians were solving this problem as the evening wore on because it seemed as if Lisa O’Hare’s singing gained in strength in the later songs.

This is first and foremost a chance to hear Lerner & Loewe’s songs for this musical, from I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, to I Could Have Danced All Night, to I’m Getting Married in the Morning, to Wouldn’t It Be Loverly—–ALL.

Lyric Opera MY FAIR LADY
When Eliza's father played by Donald Maxwell comes to shake down Henry Higgins (Richard E. Grant) we hear much dialogue that reminds this was a story from George Bernard Shaw's pen Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Lyric Opera MY FAIR LADY
The dancers under the direction of choreographer Lynne Page and Donald Maxwell's abundant talent and charisma as Alfred P. Doolittle makes the "I'm Getting Married in the Morning" scene a high point of this production Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Lyric Opera MY FAIR LADY
Bryce Pinkham as Freddy delivers a superlative singing performance that is an audience favorite. Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Lyric Opera MY FAIR LADY
Eliza's entrance as the princess she has become is one of the best uses for this Library set design. "The Servant's Chorus" was another. Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Lyric Opera MY FAIR LADY
Eliza's beautiful polka dot dress in the Ascot scene helps make her the focus on the stage. (Costumes: Anthony Powell) Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Lyric Opera MY FAIR LADY
Richard E. Grant's kinetic way of telegraphing Henry Higgins' anxiety at his loss of Eliza subtly brings out a layer of his character Photo: Todd Rosenberg

This writer can only think of a small few of other musicals with so many classic songs in the same league.

Though he only gets one solo song, but a great one, it was Bryce Pinkham as Freddy Eysnford-Hill singing On the Street Where You Live, that most reminds you that it’s all about the singing. Clear and strong, his standout performance was one that this writer would put on continuous re-play if it were recorded.

Don’t expect much magic from the sets. The Director, Olivier Fredj, seems to acknowledge the difficulty that mounting a Broadway production on an opera stage meant more for holding Aida’s elephants than for creating an intimate study, by moving the singers in front of the curtain for a song’s coda quite a bit.  

And, for those of us who now have trained anticipation for Lyric productions’ choreography there IS a standout largo stretch of Get me to the Church On Time that lets you check that one off your list. One suspects that magnetic Donald Maxwell playing Alfred P. Doolittle and the cast dancers (Aubrey Adams, Shannon Alvis, Kristian Brooks, Daniel Gold, Tasha Heggem, James E. Johnson, Ethan R. Kirschbaum, Terence Marling, Jamy Meek, Hayley Meier, Jessica Wolfrum Raun, Todd Rhoades, Jacqueline Stewart, and J Tyler Whitmer) could have done far more to spice it up, had choreographer Lynne Page been unleashed to make that happen.

 

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

When:

Now through May 21.

 

Where:

Lyric’s Civic Opera House
20 N. Wacker Drive
Chicago

 

Tickets:

$22+ are available at www.lyricopera.org/myfairlady or at 312-827-5600.

 

Photos:  Todd Rosenberg and Andew Cioffi

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