Wednesday, June 15, 2011

There's been a resurgence of interest of late in My Fair Lady, Lerner and Loewe's classic musical transformation of Shaw's Pygmalion. The Stoneham Theatre did a strong production last year, which rode the coat-tails of the Trevor Nunn touring version that had rolled through town a year or two before. That version starred Lisa O'Hare as Eliza (at left) who is now back in another production, opposite Charles Shaughnessy (of TV's The Nanny), at the North Shore Music Theatre.

So - are three Ladies in as many years almost too much of a good thing?

Not in my book - I could see this show every week, particularly with O'Hare as its star. She matches Audrey Hepburn's gamine presence with Julie Andrews' aristocratic pipes, and if she was impishly charming in that tour three years ago, she's absolutely adorable now; O'Hare is nestled completely inside the role at this point, yet keeps finding subtly original ways of mining it for both sentiment and whimsy.  In this performance lover-ly singing (and Lady regularly soars into coloratura territory) meets hilariously perceptive acting; O'Hare's is truly a classic Eliza.

And as her romantic - and phonetic - nemesis, Henry Higgins (I don't have to tell you the plot, do I?), Charles Shaughnessy proves a genially dapper surprise.  He perhaps doesn't have the piquant arrogance of Rex Harrison, nor that sense that he's an unstoppable force - and therefore he doesn't drive you, or Eliza, mad, which is too bad.  But Shaughnessy compensates with his own impishly light touch, and it's a definite plus that he can actually sing a little (which is all he has to do).  It likewise doesn't hurt that he hasn't lost his looks - Shaughnessy's performance may not be as deep or forceful as Harrison's, but he's a far more convincing romantic figure (below) than Rex ever was.

Alas, it must be said that My Fair Lady isn't, perhaps, ideally suited for an arena staging, but choreographer Michael Lichtefeld's use of the space was consistently inventive (with "Get Me to the Church on Time" proving a genuine showstopper); and while the production was rarely opulent, under the firm hand of director Charles Repole, it was admirably streamlined, and kept up a quicker pace than Trevor Nunn's ever did.  And it seemed to me that a few numbers, such as the "Ascot Gavotte," (the one time the show did pull out every glamorous stop) actually seemed wittier in the round. Luckily the North Shore was also blessed with a strong supporting cast (several of them locals). Hayden Tee made a marvelously callow Freddy, and his marvelous tenor made the most of the gorgeously lyrical "On the Street Where You Live." Meanwhile Bostonians Cheryl McMahon and Sarah deLima nailed their respective roles as Mrs. Pearce and Higgins's drily poised mother (deLima was a particular hoot). I only had my doubts (some doubts, anyway) about the swagger Bill Dietrich brought to Alfred P. Doolittle - I like my Doolittles with more of a lilt.

So I think fans of the musical will almost certainly be won over by this latest version, and if you haven't seen it (if you had, you'd be a fan) - well, what are you waiting for?

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