Review: MY FAIR LADY at The Fabulous Fox Theatre
The national tour of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady, revived by Lincoln Center Theater in 2018, is now playing The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis through April 3.
The musical, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, hit Broadway in 1956 starring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison – winning six Tony Awards (including Best Musical). It was later adapted into the 1964 Oscar-winning film (8 in total, including Best Picture) starring Audrey Hepburn opposite Harrison. The popular show would receive several revivals on Broadway and in London over the years.
Set in 1912 London, Eliza Doolittle (SHEREEN AHMED) is a poor flower girl who mistakes Professor Henry Higgins (LAIRD MACKINTOSH) for a police officer trying to arrest her for illegal activities outside the Royal Opera House. Instead, he explains that he is studying her dialect (“Why Can’t the English?”), and gives her some money before leaving with fellow linguist Colonel Pickering (KEVIN PARISEAU). After a run-in with her inebriated father Alfred (MARTIN FISHER), Eliza gets the idea to pay Higgins for speech lessons, so that she may one day work in a respectable flower shop. Higgins then makes Pickering a wager that he could pass Eliza off as a Dutchess within six months at the high society Embassy Ball.
The story is just as relevant as ever, examining classism and gender roles that still plague society over a hundred years later. Eliza is a determined, strong-willed woman who wants to work doing what she loves – but isn’t accepted due to her station. She is neglected by her father until he needs money and ultimately used by the people who she cares about – seen as nothing more than a life-sized doll to be dressed up and posed, playing make-believe in their twisted experiment. Using her newfound skills, Eliza realizes that she does have the power to make of life what she wants from it.
The production is brilliantly entertaining, full of wonderful music and hilarious situations. The classic songs have been used and repurposed in pop culture frequently (both The Simpsons and Family Guy have done parody episodes), so audiences are sure to know some of them even if they have never seen the stage or film versions. My 12-year-old had never seen a previous version and absolutely loved the show – saying it is his new favorite. The universal lessons of kindness, acceptance, helping those in need, and determination – all can be appreciated no matter your age or background.
Shereen Ahmed and Laird Mackintosh are fantastic in the lead roles, with great chemistry and perfect comedic timing. Their characters’ relationship is an archetype for many of the romantic comedies we have seen over the years, and the two actors play wonderfully off one another.
Eliza has a big personality, and Ahmed is superb at delivering her lines with a thick Cockney accent at the beginning of the show. The actor has a terrific singing voice, and it is fun to hear her pronunciation evolve as the show goes on. She’s extremely talented and simply put – very funny. And the laughs are balanced with plenty of heart in the show, a tribute to her multifaceted performance in addition to the timeless writing.
Mackintosh is exquisite as Henry Higgins, playing a man with talent, confidence, and money – but who has no self-awareness. The character knows how to sound sophisticated, yet oftentimes does not act like the gentleman he purports to be. This push-and-pull of his personality is exemplified in “I’m an Ordinary Man,” which is a hysterical number with the actor’s physical comedy. The character can be mean, relentless, and at times downright cruel – oblivious to it all. But by the end of the show, it becomes apparent that he is the one in need of some tutoring. Mackintosh also has a great voice.
Kevin Pariseau is a joy to watch as Pickering, the kind-hearted man who seems to be the only one looking out for Eliza’s best interests. “The Rain in Spain” is a delight number between him and the two leads. And speaking of fun songs, Martin Fisher is phenomenal in the show-stopping number, “Get Me to the Church on Time,” full of can-can dancers and the ensemble dancing around the stage. The actor is hysterical throughout the show.
Leslie Alexander is fabulous as Professor Higgins’ mother, who isn’t afraid to speak her mind when it comes to her son’s behavior. The talented Sam Simahk has a beautiful voice, and is fun to watch as his character Freddy becomes infatuated with Eliza (“On the Street Where You Live”). Gayton Scott is great as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper, and Lee Zarrett is marvelous during the ball as the former linguistics student of the professor.
The production features beautiful scenic design by Michael Yeargan, capturing Edwardian London through detailed sets paired with Donald Holder’s lighting design. His most impressive creation is the intricate home of Henry Higgins, which is a rotating set that allows the actors to easily move between rooms as it turns. The attention to detail makes the home feel lived in and somewhere a man of Higgins’ status would inhabit.
The costumes by Catherine Zuber are mesmerizing, especially when it comes to the gorgeous dresses and hats at the horse race – as well as the elegant gowns and impressive suits donned at the ball.
With many memorable songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “With a Little Bit of Luck,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and “You Did It,” among others, My Fair Lady offers a delightful evening of musical theater. A timeless story tackling many issues that are still relevant today, audiences both new to and familiar with the show will have much to appreciate in this outstanding production of the Lerner and Loewe classic.
My Fair Lady is currently playing The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis through April 3. Tickets are available through MetroTix or the box office. For more information, visit fabulousfox.com or the official tour site at myfairladyontour.com.
ALL PHOTOS © JOAN MARCUS