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My Fair Lady ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
December 21, 2019 

The story of Eliza Doolittle, a street waif transformed into a high society lady by the over-achieving phoneticist, Professor Henry Higgins, has recently been adapted to reflect the #MeToo movement.  Love it or leave it (I overheard a dismayed audience member kvetch about the changes), Director Bartlett Sher has fashioned Eliza into a girl from the wrong side of town yet with a street-wise sense of self.  My Fair Lady, the classic musical that made its Broadway debut in 1956, at the height of Lerner and Loewe’s musical partnership, echoes George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion, itself derived from Ovid’s poem, Metamorphoses, the myth of the sculptor who fell in love with a statue of a woman.

Shavey Brown, Mark Aldrich, Shereen Ahmed (center), William MichalsandColin Anderson. Photo credit Joan Marcus

As you can imagine, the challenge of passing off an uneducated flower girl with a cockney accent into a lady who could move undetected among high society, is fraught with all manner of potential social faux pas.  “In six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at the Embassy Ball,” he boasts.  Men are always trying to fix things.  Right?  Higgins’ collegial cohort, Colonel Pickering, bets him it can’t be done.

Laird Mackintoshas Professor Henry Higginsand Shereen Ahmedas Eliza Doolittle. Photo credit Joan Marcus

In this glorious redo, Eliza Doolittle’s role has been upgraded to a scrappy, independent-minded and totally liberated woman, though it takes some doing to achieve self-evolution.  No matter that the premise has been modernized a bit, the music is as tuneful and glorious as you remember, and with a full orchestra filling the Opera House to the rafters, it is positively rapturous.  I promise you will thrill to “The Rain in Spain”, “With a Little Bit of Luck”, “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “On the Street Where You live”, and another dozen or more tunes that are an indelible part of Broadway legend.

Leslie Alexanderas Mrs. Higgins, Shereen Ahmedas Eliza Doolittle and Kevin Pariseauas Colonel Pickering. Photo credit Joan Marcus

Spectacular costumes dazzle in the scene at the posh Royal Ascot gavotte where Eliza is first introduced to the grand dames in their lavish pastel gowns and sky-skimming feathered hats and dapper gentlemen in their top hats and morning dress.  There her gaffes among the Old Guard are almost her undoing.  Yet her inherent charm and comic phrasing is welcomed as refreshing, and she fools most of them. The only ones not deceived are the Hungarian poseur, Professor Zoltan Karpathy, and Higgins’s own mother who takes to the girl recognizing her true heart and her love for her son and mentor.  Expect a novel twist at the denouement, as Eliza keeps us in suspense as to her future and who she will choose to share it with.

Sam Simahkas Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Shereen Ahmedas Eliza Doolittle, Kevin Pariseauas Colonel Pickering and Leslie Alexanderas Mrs. Higgins. Photo credit Joan Marcus

Highly recommended.  It’s ab-so-bloomin’-lutely fantastic!

Directed by Bartlett Sher; Choreography by Christopher Gattelli; Sets by Michael Yeargan; Costumes by Catherine Zuber; Lighting by Donald Holder; and Sound by Marc Salzberg.

Starring Shereen Ahmed as Eliza Doolittle; Laird Mackintosh as Professor Henry Higgins; Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering, Adam Grupper as Alfred P. Doolittle; Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill; Gayton Scott as Mrs. Pearce; and Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Higgins.

Through January 19, 2020 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

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