When “My Fair Lady” debuted on Broadway in 1956 it was an immediate classic. The “perfect musical” one review said. But how does this oft-repeated winner look today, almost 60 years later? Bill Gale says the version now at Theater by the Sea lets you know why “My Fair Lady” is still singing.
That it is. The music and songs in this classic are just about the best Broadway has produced. Frederick Loewe's music. harmonious and clear, is perfectly attuned to a work that is both clever and serious. And the lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner . . . well . . . “Get Me to the Church on Time” says it all.
Then throw in the fact that the whole thing is taken from George Bernard Shaw's 1912 work “Pygmalion” and you have a show that needs, oh, just a first class production to succeed.
At Theatre by the Sea, they have come up with a “My Fair Lady” that is fully competent. It perhaps lacks a kind of brash drive and raucous view of the world, but, overall, it's a good, solid look at the people and times of “My Fair Lady.”
The singing is often strong, especially by Kerry Conte, a performer with a rich voice and an ability to transform her character. She played Mary Poppins last season at Theatre by the Sea. In this case, of course, she's Eliza Doolittle, who rises from yowling flower girl to a lady who does not wait.
In the other critical role, the veteran Charles Shaughnessy makes the imperious character of Henry Higgins into someone you can see right through. This Higgens, the rough-edged professor who cares only about himself, at least until Eliza comes along, is turned into a somewhat of a jerk.
But in the end, Shaughnessy has his way. You do end up feeling for the guy, despite his overbearing faults.
Much of the rest of the cast is fully adequate. Bill E. Dietrich gives the crucial role of Eliza's alcohol and let-the-good-times-roll father a sweet touch. Zachary Burger gives Eliza's out-of-luck suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a winsome charm and Maria Day is properly strong as the mother of Henry Higgins.
Director Charles Repole has moved the show's many scenes right along and the choreography by Michael Lichtfeld is quick, sure, and nicely executed by a small but vibrant group of dancers.
But, in the end, it is that score that makes “My Fair Lady” still a classic, a never-boring work. When you have songs such as “Wouldn't It Be Loverly?” “The Rain In Spain” and “I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, well you have something worth seeing. A classic, without doubt.
“My Fair Lady” continues at Theatre by the Sea in Matunuck through July 18th. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.