Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell
May 5, 2022 Issue
A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.
PART 4A: TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW BY NANCY RICH
DPAC's My Fair Lady Features Stunning Costumes and
Sets, a Top-Notch Orchestra, and Strong Performances
The Durham Performing Arts Center's May 3-8 presentation of the national tour of the Lincoln Center Theater's 2018-19 production
of Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady stars (center, from left) Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill (in top hat), Shereen Ahmed as
Eliza Doolittle, Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering, and Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Higgins (photo © by Joan Marcus)
The award-winning, critically acclaimed Lincoln Center Theater touring production of My Fair Lady arrived at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, May 3rd, as a part of its 2021-22 Truist Broadway at DPAC season. The Tuesday-night audience lined up with excitement to experience one of Broadway's legendary shows. (The original tour date for Durham was in May 2021, so local audiences have been waiting an especially long time for this production.)
Based upon George Bernard Shaw's 1912 play Pygmalion, with a nod to William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 Broadway musical My Fair Lady has always had to walk a challenging tightrope that honors the original script while taking contemporary social mores into consideration. Is the story of a man taking on a woman as a sort of "project" still relevant? Can the stunning costumes and sets, top-notch orchestra, and strong performances be enough to captivate us? From the familiar opening notes of the overture, our expectations begin to rise.
In the opening scene at Covent Garden, we meet Eliza Doolittle, played in the May 3rd performance by Nicole Ferguson, who gives us a layered, nuanced, and dare I say, feminist, performance. Just like the flowers that she has for sale at the market -- we know that Eliza is going to blossom into a strong woman who can burst through all the barriers that she's about to face. This Eliza is going to be a strong sparring partner to "Enry Iggins," and we can 'ardly wait!
What makes this story so interesting is that Professor Henry Higgins is assumed to be incapable of growth and resistant to change. Being stuck-in-gear gives Higgins a charming befuddlement that is fascinating and highly entertaining. In "I'm an Ordinary Man," Laird Mackintosh invites us to experience the complexity of Higgins' personality as he explains the lack of complexity in his personality.
In this critic's mind, the companion piece to Higgins' "I'm an Ordinary Man" is Eliza's Act 2 song, "Without You." This is when we see the full flowering of Eliza's self-confident independence.
Laird Mackintosh and Shereen Ahmed star as Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (photo © by Joan Marcus)
Under Bartlett Sher's direction, the new production sticks closer to Shaw's version by emphasizing England's rigid social class snobbery. And Sher's contemporary approach to the performance style allows strikingly emotional moments to emerge from the comedy. For example, Eliza's revenge song, "Just You Wait," carries more anger -- a more realistic response to the relentless bullying and demeaning treatment that she has experienced in Higgins' home.
Mrs. Higgins, played by Leslie Alexander, seems unsurprised that Eliza is the one to finally bring her son Henry the adult brat to heel. Mrs. Higgins is a strong female character in her own right, and it's the quiet moments when she offers Eliza advice and comfort that are most authentic.
Eliza's no-good father, Alfred P. Doolittle, is played by Martin Fisher. At times larger-than-life, and at other times surprisingly subtle and nuanced, Fisher can summon both qualities in the beloved rogue. "Get Me to the Church on Time" is a rousing rollick, and choreographer Christopher Gattelli has made it especially fresh and lively.
The diminutive Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, swoons dramatically and comically on Eliza's doorstep in "On the Street Where You Live," reminding this critic of a young Tommy Steele in the 1968 film, Finian's Rainbow.
A show highlight is the street quartet that sings with Eliza on "Wouldn't It Be Loverly": Colin Anderson, Christopher Faison, William Michals, and Gerard M. Williams. All of the vocals are great in this production, as well as the audio mix of the orchestra with the singers.
Kevin Pariseau plays Higgins' friend and colleague Colonel Pickering with aplomb, and it's endearing to see Pickering become Eliza's chief sympathizer.
As Higgins' housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, Gayton Scott's bracing Scottish accent is a delight to hear as she tells Higgins that he can't treat people like objects "as if you were picking up a pebble on the beach."
My Fair Lady stars Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill (photo © by Joan Marcus)
Just like the 2017 tour of The King and I, another Lincoln Center-produced classic musical to come to DPAC, My Fair Lady delivers on multiple technical levels.
Michael Yeargan's elaborate two-story set is mounted on a turntable -- especially impressive during "The Servants' Chorus" montage that shows the passage of time. The carousel spins while Ferguson makes at least four super-quick costume changes.
Speaking of costumes, My Fair Lady costumer Catherine Zuber dresses to impress. In the famous Ascot Racecourse sequence, Zuber's costumes display a delicate palette of mauve and lavender, mixed with the traditional gray. And oh, the hats!
It's at the racetrack that Marc Salzberg's sound design is most dazzling, as we hear the thundering of the horses' hooves around an audible track that follows the speaker system around the sides and back of the auditorium.
Now to the final scene: the big question about Eliza and Higgins' relationship is there for the director to determine. At the end, will they be romantic partners, friends, colleagues, or nothing at all? How Sher chooses to end the play is unusual, and something I won't divulge. Let's just say that the relationship between men and women is always complex. And we humans thrive on that complexity.
Meanwhile, I urge you to attend this production, which runs through Sunday, May 8th. And a gentle reminder: May 20th is Eliza Doolittle Day!
Kevin Pariseau (left), Laird Mackintosh, and Shereen Ahmed star as Colonel Pickering, Professor Henry Higgins, and
Eliza Doolittle in the Lincoln Center Theater production of Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady (photo © by Joan Marcus)
May 4-8: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday: Lincoln Center Theater production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's My Fair Lady (In Person), based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, directed by Bartlett Sher, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, and presented as part of Truist Broadway at DPAC, and starring Shereen Ahmed as Eliza Doolittle, Laird Mackintosh as Professor Henry Higgins, Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Higgins, Martin Fisher as Alfred P. Doolittle, Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering, Gayton Scott as Mrs. Pearce, and Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham). TRAILERS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foWFp8X-0NA. 2021-22 TRUIST BROADWAY AT DPAC SEASON: https://www.dpacnc.com/truist-broadway/season/2021-2022-truist-broadway-at-dpac. THE PRESENTER/VENUE: https://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://www.instagram.com/DPACNC/, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and https://www.youtube.com/user/DPACLive. DIRECTIONS: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/directions. PARKING: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/parking. DPAC COVID-19 REQUIREMENTS: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/vaccination-and-covid-19-test-requirements. THE TOUR: https://www.myfairladyontour.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/my-fair-lady-522677, https://facebook.com/MyFairLadyBway, https://www.instagram.com/MyFairLadyBway/, https://twitter.com/MyFairLadyBway, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCalXDsRNjKgUyaDzzKKy49g. TOUR CAST (scroll down): https://www.myfairladyontour.com/. TOUR CREATIVE TEAM (scroll down): https://www.myfairladyontour.com/. THE SHOW: https://www.mtishows.com/my-fair-lady-0, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/my-fair-lady-6369, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Fair_Lady. THE SCRIPT (excerpts): https://books.google.com/books. NOTE 1: There will be an open-captioned performance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5th. NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show's 8 p.m. Saturday, May 7th, performance. TICKETS: $35 and up, plus taxes and fees. Call 800-982-2787 or click here to buy tickets. GROUPS (10+ tickets): 919-680-2787, Groups@DPACnc.com, and https://www.dpacnc.com/events/groups-services. INFORMATION: 919-680-2787 or CustomerService@DPACnc.com. Susie Potter's Review.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Nancy Rich is a local director/choreographer, with a love for the performing arts and a passion for supporting local artistic work. Nancy and her husband, Rod, own and operate Monkeybravo, a video production company. Nancy is one of the founders of Actors Comedy Lab and participates in local theater as a hired gun, a volunteer and, on very rare occasions, an actor. Nancy recently wrote a series of monologues called The PRINCESS Talks, performed at the 2017 Women's Theatre Festival.
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