Chances are that visitors to this website are fairly familiar with MY FAIR LADY, the musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s play PYGMALLION, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story is about Eliz Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, who takes language lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, a phonetician, so she can pass as a lady. Despite his cynical nature and difficulty understanding women, Higgins falls in love with her.
The original 1956 Broadway production of the musical was a critical and critical acclaim, winning six Tony Awards including Best Musical. The show set a record as the longest-running musical on Broadway up to that point, and was also a hit in London’s West End. Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews starred in both productions, as well as in the 1964 film adaptation, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Countless revivals and productions of all imaginable theater groups followed.
As the opening night of the production at Proctor’s neared, I anticipated a night of classical musical theater that would no doubt prove “loving” (to borrow from one of the show’s many well-known songs). This tour of the Lincoln Center Theater Production also gave me an idea that the evening would be filled with world-class singing talent. Not surprisingly, both thoughts turned out to be correct. However, the evening was also full of surprises.
Directed by Bartlett Sher, the production stays true to the original, but some updates have been made, including some refreshments to the book and dialogue, some of which shed a brighter light on gender equality despite the social norms of the time. Many of these were particularly popular with the public. Sets by Michael Yeargen are particularly notable, turntables are incorporated to achieve multiple looks and venues that are quite impressive, especially for a truck touring show. However, some of the actors seemed a bit cramped. To be fair, that could be down to four of the lead roles being played by understudies, including Sarah Quinn Taylor as Eliza Doolittle, Wade McCollum as Henry Higgins, Patrick Kerr as Colonel Pickering, and George Psomas as Freddie Eynsford-Hill. A total of ten substitutes were performed in this performance. While this was a bit shallow for the critical eye/ear in terms of timing and energy, the 3 hour production was polished and highly professional. The changes may have also given some supporting roles a chance to shine, as was the case with Mrs. Higgins (Henry’s mother), played by Leslie Alexander; and Mrs. Pearce (his housekeeper), played by Gayton Scott. Both seemed very familiar and familiar with their characters.
One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of the evening was Wade McCollum’s performance as Henry Higgins. Usually presented as dry, aloof and bombastic, McCollun’s Higgins has a much more youthful presence, a zest for life, almost Playboy-like quality. I can’t tell if this was due to McCollum, Bartlett Sher directing, script changes, or a combination of the above. I can tell you that despite the character of Higgins’ overwhelmingly unlikable personality (or lack thereof), it works. McCollum’s Henry is charming, dashing, and downright likeable when he’s not a rather egocentric, pompous intellectual.
Catherine Zuber’s costumes are beautiful, as is the eight-piece orchestra, conducted by Ted Sperling.
While no official word was given on the number of substitutes at Tuesday night’s opening performance, Wednesday’s performance was canceled citing breakthrough cases of Covid among the crew. The run is scheduled to continue through May 22 at Proctors in Schenectady.