THEATER REVIEW: My Fair Lady
Lyric Stage, Boston, September 10, 2015
Lyric Stage’s My Fair Lady begins at the finale, with Eliza Doolittle coming back to Henry Higgins and his gramophone. Their eyes meet, then we flash back six months before, the night Higgins meets Eliza as she hocks flowers in Covent Garden. From that initial meet-cute, to the end of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s musical, Eliza Doolittle grows into her own ladyhood, asserting she can do “bloody well” without Higgins. Yet even in her moment of triumph, he cuts her off, reminding Eliza she is his beautiful creation, “a tower of strength” in his words. After saying goodbye, there she is, soon after, back at Wimpole Street (“I washed my face and ‘ands before I come, I did”).
As Jennifer Ellis’s Eliza re-enters the study, where Christopher Chew’s Higgins wrestled her speech into a lady’s, she sits and Higgins collapses weeping into her lap. She looks satisfied. Has she gotten the upper hand, forcing him to need her? Is there a hint of love there?
The years between Ellis and Chew are significant, and Chew (like Rex Harrison) does not seem a sexual partner. Chew makes the phonetics teacher especially irascible but naive to human relations, like a greedy child in a candy store. He is not dictatorial; he pouts, not bellows. It’s a strong, witty take on Higgins that anchors the show. My Fair Lady is also Henry’s awakening—to emotional connection, and maybe something more.
Director Scott Edmiston weaves touches of romance into the familiar story. Act One ends before the ball (smartly abbreviated on this small stage); Higgins treats Eliza to a dance as the music swells. We are prepped for this moment earlier, in the final chorus of “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Her Cockney manners shed, Ellis is suddenly more in tune with Eliza as a lady, and she gets to sing the last verse in a slower, dreamier accompaniment from the three-instrument chamber orchestra.
Jared Troilo makes for a well-sung, world-weary Freddy, and J.T. Turner best of the lot as the bacchnalian Alfred P. Doolittle. I wish there weren’t dream characters inserted into “Just You Wait” (a dream King of England) and “You Did It” (an irritating Zolton Karpathy). And using the full 11-person ensemble for Higgins’s servants feels excessive: can he afford so many? This Fair Lady best fulfills its romantic ideals when it stays intimate. The most touching scene finds Eliza back at the market, dressed as a lady, replaced by another flower girl singing the same sad song.