×

Broadway Review: ‘My Fair Lady’

Lincoln Center Theater opens its heart (and its superb Vivian Beaumont stage) to that most beloved of musicals, “My Fair Lady.”

With:

Lauren Ambrose, Harry Hadden-Paton, Norbert Leo Butz, Diana Rigg, Allan Corduner, Jordan Donica, Linda Mugleston, and Manu Narayan

If you’ve got it, flaunt it. The splendid Beaumont stage at Lincoln Center was made for great classic musicals like Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady,” and helmer Bartlett Sher was born to stage them. This jubilant revival is meticulously mounted and entirely welcome – despite the eccentric casting choice of Lauren Ambrose as Eliza Doolittle.

Ambrose, a dramatic actress noted for her style and intelligence in shows like “Awake and Sing!” and “Exit the King” (not to mention her comic flair in “Six Feet Under”), does not leap to mind as the perfect Eliza. She doesn’t even leap to mind as the okay Eliza. It’s a triumph of acting that this non-singer manages to sing like a trouper. But the strain shows.

It comes as a happy shock to be reminded of what a great show this is. The Pygmalion story (lifted from George Bernard Shaw, via the Pascal film) about romantic transformation is as old and durable as a fairy tale. Henry Higgins (the ever-so handsome – and authentically British – Harry Hadden-Paton) is the magician, and Eliza, the dirty little guttersnipe he encounters selling flowers at Covent Garden, is the princess whose hidden beauty he uncovers, cultivates, and eventually falls in love with. The Ascot races and the Embassy ball are two of the trials the heroine must overcome before she can take her rightful place in society and in Higgins’ arms.

The clarity of speech is a joy in itself. When Higgins pronounces Eliza “so delicious low,” the consonants register with a snap. “The Rain in Spain,” in which Eliza discovers the joy of finding her own speaking voice, deserves to stop the show. And when Higgins speaks with real passion of “the majesty, the grandeur of the English language,” you can hear the shiver of true love in his voice.

As Lincoln Center productions go, this one, under Sher’s scrupulous direction, is among the more spectacular. Michael Yeargan’s sets, from the flower market at Covent Garden to Higgins’ magnificent library with its overstuffed bookshelves and spiral staircase, are as rich and luscious as wedding cakes. Catherine Zuber’s costumes, from Higgins’ paisley smoking jacket to Eliza’s column gown for the Embassy ball, have true elegance. (What a joy to watch Diana Rigg, a vision in lady-like lavender, entering her private box at Ascot with all sails flying.) The scenes are beautifully composed and Donald Holder’s warm lighting adds a magical glow to each one.

There are things that could have been better managed. Norbert Leo Butz’s Alfred P. Doolittle, who would happily sell his daughter to a stranger for five pounds, is a lovable scamp. (“I’m one of the undeserving poor,” he cackles.) But he’s still a bit over the top. And Jordan Donica’s gentlemanly Freddy, whose solo “On the Street Where You Live” is as pure as birdsong, could have been less of a twit. But we’re nit-picking here. With Lerner and Loewe’s soaring score and Sher’s respectful staging, a beloved show comes alive in all its glory to end the theater season on a high.

POPULAR ON VARIETY 

Broadway Review: 'My Fair Lady'

Lincoln Center Theater / Vivian Beaumont

Production:

A Lincoln Center Theater production in association with Nederlander Presentations, Inc., of a musical in two acts with book & lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe adapted from “Pygmalion,” a play by George Bernard Shaw and a film by Gabriel Pascal. Opened April 19, 2018. Reviewed April 13.

Creative:

Directed by Bartlett Sher. Choreography by Christopher Gattelli. Music direction by Ted Sperling. Sets, Michael Yeargan; costumes, Catherine Zuber; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Marc Salzberg; musical arrangements, Robert Russell Bennett & Phil Lang; production stage manager, Jennifer Rae Moore

Cast:

Lauren Ambrose, Harry Hadden-Paton, Norbert Leo Butz, Diana Rigg, Allan Corduner, Jordan Donica, Linda Mugleston, and Manu Narayan

More Legit

  • 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama'

    What function do superhero stories play in American society? Are they merely escapist distractions for head-in-the-clouds teens, or could those same formats actually serve a practical function, providing useful tools for everyday life? Recognizing these comic book fantasies as by far the dominant form of contemporary mythmaking for a generation of young people, emerging playwright [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

  • Ain't Too Proud review

    Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud'

    In the wake of the long-running “Jersey Boys” and the short-lived “Summer,” director Des McAnuff is back on Broadway with another show built around the song catalog of a music act — and although “Ain’t Too Proud” has all the right sounds and slick moves, this bio-musical of the R&B vocal group the Temptations is [...]

  • 'White Noise' Theater Review: Suzan-Lori Parks

    Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise'

    Any new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog / Underdog”) demands — and deserves — attention. And in its premiere production at the Public Theater, her latest, “White Noise,” opens with a burst of brainy energy that lasts through the first act. But it takes a nosedive in the sloppy second half, [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a kind [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. “I’m thrilled to be returning to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content