My Fair Lady, currently on tour and playing at the Orpheum, is a show with a beautiful score and a story and characters that are uncomfortably relatable to our current times. The plot almost seems to exist in our cultural consciousness, but I sat around a couple people who knew nothing about the show, so forgive the short plot summary. In London in the early 1900s Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, happens upon Eliza Doolittle selling flowers in Covent Garden and is horrified by her accent. He proclaims that in 6 months of lessons he could pass her off as a lady, and with the encouragement of a friend Colonel Pickering ends up taking upon this challenge. Eliza transforms, maintains her fiery soul and gains some confidence, and at the ends finds herself struggling to know where to go next.
I thought myself familiar with the show, I have seen the movie many times, and know almost every song in the show by heart. The score by Lerner and Loewe and beautiful and luscious, and played wonderful by a large orchestra comprised of both touring and local musicians. I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t feel completely engulfed and surrounded by the music in the way I had hoped to be. This is most likely a because of the large size and design of the Orpheum Theater.
What surprised me so much by this production is how much more rough and mean Henry Higgins is than I remember. He clearly sees Eliza as little more than dirt or trash on the street and says as much multiple times. The fact that he does not change at all during the show, regardless of the fact that he grows fond or accustomed to Eliza is painful to watch, and sadly very relatable as well. Along with the extreme classism and strong judgement cast based solely on the way that someone speaks was hard to watch. Although once again, much of that pain comes from knowing that the word we live in more than 100 years after the setting of My Fair Lady has many of the same problems and is filled with men with as toxic and stubborn personalities in positions of power.
The cast which portrays this beautiful and slightly painful to watch show do so with immense talent and sincerity. It would be impossible for me to feel as strongly as I did about the characters and scenes portrayed if they did not. Shereen Ahmed played Eliza Doolittle and sang her songs in a beautiful soprano, but was I found most powerful about her performance was the way that she portrayed the strength at the core of Eliza, which was also at the core of the show. Laird MacKintosh was Professor Henry Higgins and was extremely effective of portraying Higgins's lack of heart, and immense pride in himself and his work.
The show takes place on a beautiful stage comprised of water colored backdrops and set pieces that are moved on and off stage in a way that brings to mind the way shows must have looked around the time when My Fair Lady came out, before everything on stage was automated. The way that it was able to not look automated but also flowed extremely smoothly was a lot of fun to watch.
The My Fair Lady tour is currently playing at the Orpheum through this Sunday, March 8th. It is a must see for anyone who is in love with the score. Click here for more information about the show and how to get tickets.
*Photos by Joan Marcus