Theater Reviews

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Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles
Through April 27

Fans of "My Fair Lady" (and who isn't?) are in for a treat. How often do you get to see a classic musical staged with the brilliance it deserves and cast in a way to grant an audience the additional pleasure of seeing it again for the first time?

With such marquee names as Trevor Nunn (director), Matthew Bourne (choreography) and Anthony Ward (set design and costumes) attached to this Cameron Mackintosh/National Theatre of Great Britain production, one might reasonably assume the staging would be dazzling. What's especially gratifying about this production, however, is the quality of the acting. The battle -- and reconciliation, sort of -- of the sexes that underlies the show's more formal themes of language and class is pursued with a crackling dramatic intensity that makes it a perfect counterweight to Lerner and Loewe's lush romantic score.

Much of this has to do with Christopher Cazenove's brusque, unsentimental Henry Higgins, the phonetics professor and confirmed bachelor out to prove he can turn a screeching cockney flower girl into a well-spoken lady. Male chauvinist to the core and proud of it, Cazenove adds a certain truculence to the natural smugness of the character. Between the authoritarian Higgins and his musty chum, Colonel Pickering (a delightful Walter Charles), the stage is awash in testosterone, even if it smells faintly of formaldehyde and very old sherry.

Cazenove, a large, portly man with a handsome Churchillian countenance, is no sexy Rexy to be sure, but so what? Oddly enough, it's the absence of a strong romantic tie between Higgins and Eliza that makes the pair finally so touching. Their eventual coming together is hard-earned and all the more believable for its stubborn unsentimentality; these are people who have learned to appreciate each other for all sorts of good human reasons having little to do with sex or hot-blooded passion. George Bernard Shaw -- whose asexual spirit hovers over "My Fair Lady" because the show is based on his play "Pygmalion" -- probably would approve.

Lisa O'Hare is all that one could want in Eliza; she sings beautifully and carries off her transformation from guttersnipe to lady with pluck and style. Along the way, she embellishes her coming-out scenes at Ascot and the embassy ball with all the charm, wit and intelligence the role demands. She and Cazenove are particularly impressive in their final scene, when Eliza reveals she has not only turned into a lady but more importantly a woman.

Tim Jerome steals every scene he's in as Eliza's tosspot father, Alfred P. Doolittle. Jerome's "With a Little Bit of Luck" is a rowdy riot, and "Get Me to the Church on Time" is a bibulous howl. Justin Bohon, as Eliza's infatuated suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill, is in fine voice singing "On the Street Where You Live." Marni Nixon (the gorgeous singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in the film) is a superb Mrs. Higgins, but pity she doesn't get to sing.

Each time this scintillating musical is revisited, one can find new things to like about it. In the current production, that goes double.

MY FAIR LADY
The Cameron Mackintosh/National Theatre of Great Britain production
Credits:
Book-lyrics: Alan J. Lerner
Music: Frederick Loewe
Director: Trevor Nunn
Choreographer/musical staging: Matthew Bourne
Set designer: Anthony Ward
Cast:
Eliza Doolittle: Lisa O'Hare
Professor Henry Higgins: Christopher Cazenove
Alfred P. Doolittle: Tim Jerome
Mrs. Higgins: Marni Nixon
Colonel Hugh Pickering: Walter Charles
Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Justin Bohon
Mrs. Pearce: Barbara Marineau
Eliza Doolittle at selected performances: Dana DeLisa
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