Shaina Knox and Lance Arthur Smith
With lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, My Fair Lady has frequently been called “the perfect musical.” The well-known story of the cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, may bring a “ho-hum” reaction when one thinks of seeing this show again, but it works on so many levels and the story seems to have a timeless resonance.
8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido
That the musical’s authors struggled for years to adapt Shaw’s Pygmalion to the musical form should attest to its unmitigated appeal. Critics in the mid-1950s praised the clever use of Shaw’s original play, including its brilliant lyrics and well-integrated score. However, the Shavians had a few quibbles, with Eric Bentley calling it “a terrible treatment of Mr. Shaw’s play, undermining the basic idea,” even though he acknowledged it as a “delightful show.”
At the Welk, director Kathy Brombacher has assembled an outstanding cast, overflowing with both cockney and British upper-class charm and energy. She has also made some subtle choices to soften the sexism inherent in the original, most notably the addition of townspeople parading through the streets with suffragette signs and Eliza offering Higgins his slippers at his command and then playfully holding them behind her back for the final pose.
Lance Arthur Smith gives a fully realized performance as Professor Higgins, the elocution expert bent on transforming the flower girl into a lady. His portrayal includes many nuances, some showing the human side of this character, not often seen in presentations of this celebrated piece. His admirable treatment of the patter songs suits the British style well.
Shaina Knox provides a lively turn as Eliza, his hapless student. Full of innocence and verve, her believable transition to a lady of substance reaches out to touch us in many ways. Her soprano comes off as pleasant, though not astounding, but she still entertains with professional ease and aplomb.
As language expert Colonel Pickering, Ralph Johnson needs to display more patrician values and traditional mannerisms of an English gentleman. Here he gives us a rather quiet, uninteresting man who consequently tends to blend into the background.
As Eliza’s ne’er-do-well father Alfred P. Doolittle, Randall Hickman gives a powerhouse performance. He brilliantly captures the character in both his dialogue and musical moments.
The inventive choreography of Orlando Alexander is some of the best this reviewer has seen: notable for emphasizing dance in what is not traditionally known as a “dance show.”
Janet Pitcher’s costumes are hit-and-miss. Some of the society lady’s gowns look a bit put-together with remnants of various fabrics. But Eliza’s gowns are beautifully appropriate throughout.
Brian Redfern’s set is cleverly designed to accommodate all the locations, though some of the backdrops look a bit shabby. Musical director Justin Gray conducts a four-piece orchestra and makes it sound very grand, indeed.
Playing through April 2