But also as directed, and one might say, “adapted” by Sher, the production departs from previous versions in one significant respect, which will not be revealed here. Let’s just say it reverts to the original ending of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, on which the musical was based.
To add that it’s sung and performed to perfection by Lauren Ambrose (as Eliza), Harry Hadden-Paton (as Higgins), Norbert Leo Butz (as Alfred P. Doolittle), Allan Corduner (as Colonel Pickering) and particularly Jordan Donica (as Freddy Eynsford-Hill)–not to mention Diana Rigg, making her Broadway comeback as Higgins’ mother–should confirm that it’s a must-see musical.
With an enormous painted backdrop depicting London and featuring St. Paul’s Cathedral and a lamppost (the glorious sets have been designed by Michael Yeargan), the musical begins as Covent Garden pivots into view on a revolving stage. Though, from the moment that we see him in the opening scene, Hadden-Paton seems too young as Higgins in comparison to Rex Harrison, who originated the part, he is actually closer in age to Shaw’s intentions. He also sings more melodically than Harrison, who famously song-spoke his way through the role. Though Ambrose’s voice seems weak at first (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”), it gains in strength and stature as she proceeds.
Yeargan’s most outstanding scenic element is Higgins’ gigantic library and home, which slides onto the stage and also, eventually, rotates, revealing other rooms in the well-appointed house. It actually spins at a somewhat rapid clip, as Eliza makes her way from room to room, opening doors, while singing “Just You Wait.”
My Fair Lady, like Pygmalion, is first and last about the power dynamics between the upper and lower classes in Edwardian London, not to mention gender issues. And as many others have already noted, Sher’s production emphasizes Eliza’s ambitions to improve her lot in life, taking some of the responsibility away from Higgins.
With Christopher Gattelli as choreographer, the dancing honors of the night go to Butz as Doolittle (“With a Little Bit of Luck” and, even more so, “Get Me to the Church on Time”), who is well supported by Joe Hart (as Harry) and Lance Roberts (as Jamie). But one might wish for more from “The Embassy Waltz” which opens the second act (with Manu Narayan as Zoltan Karpathy “oozing his way around the floor”) and for the “Ascot Gavotte,” which comes late in the first.
While Catherine Zuber’s costumes achieve the height of their magnificence for the “Ascot Gavotte,” Yeargan has oddly chosen not to set the scene with anything but a blue-lit, sky background, an awning, and some lawn chairs and tables, all of which are dwarfed by the enormous space at the Vivian Beaumont. (The lighting is by Donald Holder.)
Hoping to “give credit where credit is due,” Linda Mugleston also delivers a fine Mrs. Pearce, speaking in a real brogue. To sum up, Sher’s surefire hand with musicals makes this a My Fair Lady for the ages, just as it deserves to be.
My Fair Lady (an open run)
Lincoln Center Theater in association with Nederlander Presentations, Inc.
Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 West 65th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.lct.org
Running time: two hours and 55 minutes including one intermission