5 Reasons Why My Fair Lady is Worth a Second Visit
By: Iris Wiener
March 8, 2019: How can you improve upon a stellar musical that was nominated for ten Tony awards (of which it won one) and five Drama Desk awards (of which it won two)? It’s a difficult feat, but not an impossible one. The classic show, now playing at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre, has aged well in its current production, and still feels as fresh and exciting as it did when it opened in April 2018. This is equally attributable to the care with which My Fair Lady was originally constructed and the new talent that only elevates the exquisite piece. Here are five of many reasons why it’s time for a second go-round with this “loverly” musical:
1. Eliza Doolittle is a role tailor-made for Laura Benanti. Her wide-eyed humor, her expressions that convey more than a one-page monologue in a single moment, and a voice that steps up every show a notch, all make for a genius decision when re-casting. Benanti is sublime from the opening notes of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” as she is genuinely wistful and optimistic; her talent continues to shine through the Cinderella-like journey on which she embarks, from her lightbulb moment in “The Rain in Spain” to her show-stopping entrance at the ball when she opens Act II. Experiencing Benanti’s delivery of the lyric “I can stand on my own without you” opposite Higgins in her final moments of contemplation is as powerful as theater gets.
2. Danny Burstein adds new energy to Alfred P. Doolittle, My Fair Ladyspatriarch and smarmy philosopher extraordinaire. His unique swagger and drunken antics are show-stopping in “Get Me to the Church on Time,” while he exceptionally chews on the British dialect with ease and delight. His fervor in “With a Little Bit of Luck” is palpable and contagious.
3. Michael Yeargan’s sets are intricate and stunning- hence his Tony nomination for Best Scenic Design of a Musical. At any single performance it would be impossible to catch all of the intricate details in Henry Higgins’ two-story townhouse, a rotating character in and of itself, that showcases the many opulent rooms within which Eliza transforms. Just try to take in all of the tidbits in Higgins’ office, including authentic charts and scientific paraphernalia, a giant ear and a mega-gramophone. A second look at the details, such as the miniature pulley system in Higgins’ living quarters and the “loverly” array of flowers in Covent Garden only serve to enhance one’s appreciation for the piece.
4. Harry Hadden-Paton has successfully continued to improve upon “I’m an Ordinary Man,” a challenge he admitted to imposing upon himself. At January’s BroadwayCon he said, “I found a way of [performing ‘I’m an Ordinary Man’] that adds dynamism to it,” and he continues to work to make a number often cut from productions that much better. It shows, and along with his brilliant rendition of the satirical “A Hymn to Him,” hearing him take on the challenging songs once just isn’t enough.
5. Alan Jay Lerner’s book and lyrics and Frederick Loewe’s music is considered to be timeless for good reason: you can never experience it too many times! Coupled with Christopher Gatelli’s elegant (and occasionally playful choreography) and Bartlett Sher’s exceptional, dynamic direction, My Fair Lady’s current state (and its somewhat controversial, updated ending) is especially poignant and special.
Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 W. 65th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat, 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: three hours including intermission. $97—$199. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com. Photography: Joan Marcus