A glorious production of the classic musical opens at Bay Street Theater in Sag Habor
By: Patrick Christiano
Director Michael Arden, with the aid of a marvelous design team and a superlative cast, has scaled down the classic musical My Fair Lady into a splendid two and a half plus hours of shimmering entertainment. With only two pianos and soaring voices, there isn’t a single dull moment in the entire evening. The staging is simply pitch perfect. The stellar cast of actors is led by Paul Alexander Nolan, who was Tony nominated last season for Steve Martin’s Bright Star, and Kelli Barrett.
That Nolan and Barrett worked together on the Broadway musical Doctor Zhivago, I’m sure adds to their immense appeal and outstanding chemistry. They are absolutely delightful and her full soprano has the capacity to send shivers up the spine.
Nolan plays the snobbish Henry Higgins, a role made famous by Rex Harrison in the original Broadway production of 1956, and the subsequent film a decade later. Higgins, a phonetic professor, makes a wager with his good friend Colonel Pickering, a solid Howard McGillin, that he can transform a crude and grimy Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, the ravishing Barrett, into a lady. Higgins arrogantly claims that by taking her to a ball at Covent Garden, he will fool high society into thinking she is the real thing.
The two leads, however, are not the only stars of the evening, the entire ensemble serves up the 20 sumptuous songs by Lerner & Lowe with style and wit. The songs include “Wouldn’t It Be Lovely,” With A Little Bit of Luck,” “Just You Wait,” “The Rain in Spain,” I’ Could Have Danced All Night,” On the Street Where You Live,” “Without You,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
Paul Alexander Nolan, Kelli Barrett
Bobby Conte Thornton, who plays Freddie, the young man who becomes enchanted with Eliza, is especially superb and so is his voice. He makes the classic “On the Street Where You Live,” an often performed song, memorably his own. Carole Shelley, the Tony Award winner, in the small yet pivotal role of Higgins’ mother is an acerbic delight.
The Lerner and Loewe musical, of course, is based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which is pure comic genius, a classic battle of the sexes. The adaptation by Alan Jay Lerner maintains Shaw’s ironic point of view, and the songs by the two men enhance the through lines of the original story. My Fair Lady may be one of the most perfect musicals ever written for Broadway.
The original was a huge production, however Mr. Arden, who was Tony nominated last season for the Broadway revival of the musical Spring Awakening, works magic on the tiny Mainstage of the Bay Street Theater. The handsome set by Dane Laffrey expands the playing area into three times its normal size with an ingenious use of levels. His concept is simply brilliant, the space morphs effortlessly into several key locations.
Arden’s staging for Bay Street is a thrilling recreation of the Lerner and Loewe classic, maybe one of the best musical’s ever written. He has created an efficient, concise, and robust musical that could play in almost any theater in the country. The evening marks a crowning achievement to a smart season under Scott Schwartz’s clever guidance.
My Fair Lady is now playing at Bay Street Theater through August 28, extended thru September 4, 2016 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Additionally, there will be 2 p.m. matinées on Wednesdays and Sundays. For tickets, ranging from $25 to $125, visit baystreet.org or call 631-725-9500.
Photography: Lenny Stucker