Robert Carsen Directs a Lovingly Detailed My Fair Lady

United StatesUnited States Lerner & Loewe, My Fair Lady: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago/David Chase (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago, 29.4.2017. (JLZ)

 Lisa O'Hare and Cindy Gold in 'My Fair Lady' (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)
Lisa O’Hare and Cindy Gold in My Fair Lady (c) Todd Rosenberg

Henry Higgins – Richard E. Grant
Eliza Doolittle – Lisa O’Hare
Freddy Eynsford-Hill – Bryce Pinkham
Colonel Pickering – Nicholas Le Prevost
Alfred Doolittle – Donald Maxwell
Mrs. Pearce – Cindy Gold
Mrs. Higgins – Helen Carey
Harry & Charles – Jackson Evans
Jamie – James Romney
Zoltan Karpathy – Michael Joseph Mitchell
George the Bartender & Lord Boxington – Bill McGough
Lady Boxington & Angry Lady – Peggy Roeder
Mrs. Eynsford-Hill – Carmen Roman
Mrs. Hopkins – Sara Sevigny
Butler – David Lively
Queen of Transylvania – Yvette Smith
Mrs. Higgins’ Maid – Janet Marie Farr

Conductor – David Chase
Original Director & Co-Lighting Designer – Robert Carsen
Revival Director – Olivier Fredj
Set Designer – Tim Hatley
Assistant Scenery Designer – Philippine Ordinaire
Costume Designer – Anthony Powell
Assistant Costume Designer – Fred Llinares
Co-Lighting Designer – Giuseppe di Iorio
Sound Designer – Mark Grey
Chorus Master – Michael Black
Choreographer – Lynne Page
Dialect Coach – Christine Adaire
Dramaturg – Ian Burton

The fifth production of Lyric Opera’s Broadway at Lyric series, My Fair Lady is the first Lerner & Loewe musical (the previous four had been works by Rodgers & Hammerstein) and it is a lovingly detailed presentation of this classic score. The production works exceptionally well in the Civic Opera House, making a great case for presenting musical theater in a venue with a sufficiently large stage and pit.

The production is a model of continuity, with scene changes and lighting propelling the score with cinematic speed. Director Robert Carsen kept the action brisk, with minimal scene change time to interrupt the flow. The visually appealing sets confirmed the drama’s locales, with tasteful blocking, often using the proscenium to offer the audience more intimate moments, closer to the cast. Excellent visual touches recreated down-at-the-heels places in London, peppered with low-life figures—no sanitized, Disney-like view here—recreating Shaw’s juxtaposition of social classes. At the same time, the musical presentation of the “upper crust” had appropriate irony, as in the subtly biting staging of the Ascot scene.

Lisa O’Hare was a fine Eliza Doolittle, a role she has performed in Chicago and elsewhere. She handled the sometimes demanding part with ease, and gave “Loverly” a charming interpretation. In “I Could Have Danced All Night”, O’Hare made the scene her own. But her most persuasive performance was in “Show Me”, where she revealed Liza’s further development as a passionate, self-assured woman.

Richard E. Grant emphasized Henry Higgins’ disregard for others’ emotions and his voice fit the music elegantly. Known for his film roles, Grant has a strong presence on stage, and made Higgins believable. His transitions from dialogue to song echoed some of Rex Harrison’s song-speech. When Higgins touts the superiority of men over women, Grant did so with knowing looks, which only an actor with nuanced abilities can bring.

As Freddy, Bryce Pinkham gave “On the Street Where You Live” the vocal bloom that is sometimes lacking, his full tenor voice showing effortless sweetness. Welsh baritone Donald Maxwell played Alfred Doolittle as earnestly as he has delivered his operatic roles.

But the extended ballet appended to “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” seemed gratuitous, and detracted from the otherwise effective focus on the romantic attraction between Higgins and Eliza. The staging of the final scene, as Eliza takes her place in Higgins’ household, offered a satisfying resolution of the dramatic tensions.

Michael Black’s chorus was as stylish as the smart production, and the orchestra under David Chase’s direction gave a vibrant reading of this classic score.

James L. Zychowicz

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