"My Fair Lady" is a show that happens to be very close to my heart, and seeing it last week was a treat. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe wrote several wonderful shows, but somehow, "My Fair Lady" was unique. Adapted master fully by Lerner from George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," the book is true to the original, and of course, Loewe's score has become a classic.
Summer Theatre of New Canaan presented the show as their opening offering of their season, situated in what is basically a spacious tent, with limited stage area. Clever set pieces and effective lighting, by Charles Pavarini and Devon Allen, respectively, evoked the right atmosphere for the show. The costumes by Arthur Oliver were positively sumptuous, especially the Ascot scene and, of course, the Embassy Ball.
A small orchestra conducted by a very talented young man, David Hancock Turner, handled Loewe's almost-symphonic score extremely well. The only caveat was high volume at the beginning, but which was well toned down as the show evolved. Allegra Libonati's excellent direction was entirely true to the show, and to the play that inspired it, and Doug Shankman's comic choreography was both lots of fun, and aristocratically stylish when appropriate, very well executed by the cast, especially in the limited area. Special credit has to go to those who helped with the many quicksilver costume changes.
I was familiar with the work of several members of the cast, by the way, and it was a pleasure to see all of them. The show depends on three strong leading players, Eliza Doolittle, Henry Higgins and Colonel Hugh Pickering, with two other crucial parts, Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza'd dustman father and her suitor, Freddy Eynesford-Hill. These roles were very well cast, indeed, dramatically and vocally.
Eliza was played by Jazmin Gorsline. Her voice was lovely, suited to the score, and whose acting was convincing, funny, and very touching. The moment when she first correctly intoned the sentence about the rain in Spain, was electric. as it must be. You wanted to stand up and cheer when the scene exploded into the famous song and dance trio. The tea party scene was hilarious, but Miss Gorline also gave us Eliza's subtle despair and heartbreak after her triumphant appearance at the crucial Embassy Ball, when Higgins takes all the credit for it. Richard Sheridan Willis, an experienced Shakespearean, was Higgins, rude, arrogant, and funny, exactly as he was meant to be at the same time, you sensed there was something more, and he proved it at the end with "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face," gentle and introspective. You almost forgave him for his previous bad behavior. Gary Harger was a delightful Pickering, who is obviously fond of Eliza, and it was good to hear his wonderful tenor voice. Brian Silliman, as the disreputable, soon to be respectable, Alfred Doolittle, romped his boozy with his equally disreputable pals through "A Little Bit o' Luck," and later sang and danced his way "to the church on time," flat-out wonderful. Christian Libonati was dear as the lovesick Freddy. His clear voice in "On the Street Where You Live" was a charming moment. William Hammons did a fine turn as Professor Zoltan Karpathy, who fancies himself Higgins' equal.
The large cast included Sandy York, as housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, Anna Holbrook as Mrs Higgins, who knows her son very well, Joan Mitchell Carlo, Lou Ursone, Gail Yudain and a talented ensemble, many of whom played several parts with delight and relish.
"My Fair Lady" will run through July 7. The show itself is a masterpiece. Summer Theatre of New Canaan has given us back the poignant drama, general hilarity and true elegance of a great play and a score that has probably not been equaled in a long, long while. It was presented with taste and class, and what better way could there possible be to spend a lovely summer evening? Call 203-966-4634 or email email@example.com.
Arden Anderson Broecking is a theater critic based in Fairfield County.