Thursday, February 3, 2011
The 1956 Broadway production of My Fair Lady, written by Lerner and Loewe, with legendary director Moss Hart and costumes by Cecil Beaton, won lots of theatre awards. But it was a national phenomenon in ways that that can never happen anymore, regardless of how much money Broadway blockbusters now collect. Its stars (especially Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews) became staples on the three television networks’ variety shows, its songs became radio hits. The original cast album was the second biggest seller of 1956, and #1 in 1957. A cover version of “On the Street Where You Live” was a top- forty single when “Hound Dog” led the charts. In subsequent years when Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher, Nat King Cole, Dinah Shore and Rosemary Clooney each had TV shows, they all sang and recorded songs from My Fair Lady.
So it was that these songs (“I Could Have Danced All Night,” “I’ve Become Accustomed to Her Face,” etc.) were imprinted on my childhood, even if I was impatiently enduring them, waiting for the next comedian on Steve Allen or Ed Sullivan. Such American as well as Broadway standards are probably still at least vaguely familiar melodies, but today’s audiences have the opportunity to experience My Fair Lady afresh.
There are hints of their recorded forbearers in the current North Coast Repertory Theatre production: a little Rex Harrison in some of Michael Thomas’ Henry Higgins scenes, a touch of Julie Andrews in Caitlin McMurtry’s Eliza Doolittle, even some Jeremy Brett tremolo in Kristopher Buihner’s young Freddy, Eliza’s callow suitor. But mostly they make this show their own. Thomas brings out Higgins’ irony, and McMurtry has such glowing energy that she seemed ready to burst the confines of the set as she brings new life and reality to “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
In the story, lightly adapted from G. B. Shaw’s play Pygmalion, professor Henry Higgins and his friend Colonel Pickering pick up a lower class flower seller, and through linguistic training convince upper class Europeans that she’s one of them. As Pickering, Jim Berry has the delightful advantage of being English, as well as an amusing and convincing actor. His wife Isobel Berry did wonderful work as dialect coach, especially with Catlin McMurtry who had to learn two classes of British accents. This was just one aspect of her scintillating vocal and acting performance.
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