Whether we realize it or not we are defined by our diction. We are categorized into social caste and economic strata by how we converse and of course dress. My Fair Lady, the musical based on George Bernard’s 1913 most popular production Pygmalion, addresses this circumstance. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe collaborated to make this a classical popular musical. The classics never go out of style and this one is always a delight to audiences. The story revolves around its protagonist, Eliza Doolittle aptly portrayed by Shereen Ahmed. She is a survivor who wants to better her position in life. After a brief encounter where she is trying to eke out a subsistence living by selling flowers in Covent Gardens, outside the Opera House, she encounters Professor Henry Higgins, played by Laird Mackintosh, an excellent casting choice by the Telsey Office. He is writing down everything she is saying. Fearful he is a policeman who is going to arrest her; she becomes quite feisty. It turns out he is a phonetician fascinated by her Cockney dialect.
Higgins in turn bumps into a fellow linguist Colonel Pickering, whom he greatly admires. He is artfully depicted by distinguished actor Kevin Pariseau. Higgins and Pickering strike up a friendship and engage each other in a good-natured bet. Higgins, an extreme misogynist, and narcissist, brags to Colonel Pickering he could turn the lowly flower peddler into a proper lady, even mistaken for royalty in six months with his language instruction in formal English.
Thus begins an enchanting evening of memorable musical scores by Frederick Lowe, Alan Jay Lerner’s most beloved book and lyrics, along with Christopher Gatelli’s outstanding choreography, dazzling lighting by Donna Holder, Michael Yearman’s lavish set design, Catherine Zuber’s beautiful rich costumes, and Donovan Dolan’s phenomenal staging. Higgin’s home library was magnificently, artfully, detailed. With a stellar cast, musicals of this nature just leave you happy. We need this right now.
This Lincoln Center Theater Revival is both humorous, uplifting, and soul-inspiring. It is also a reminder of how we may not voice our extreme prejudices and biases, as Higgin’s does so vociferously and offensively our actions still can cause detriment and societal harm. Let us face it, we can be guilty of one-sidedness and putting ourselves first, too. Higgins may train Eliza but he does not tame her. It is through her persistence and hard work that she achieves her goals even though her dream may not be what she thought it would be. She does hold onto her independent spirit and strength. She actually transforms Higgins.
Sherren Ahmad as Eliza singing is angelic and mesmerizing. When she appears beautifully adorned for the Hungarian ball the lighting on her crown and jewels is so radiantly brilliant it takes your breath away. My only disappointment in this stellar production was in the opening scenes where Shereen Ahmed’s Courtney accent was impossible for me to understand. Although I know this is somewhat the point, I still felt cheated and wished there was a captioning feature for her dialect. During intermission, I questioned others besides me who expressed the same feelings as me. Some patrons said that they did not have a clue as to what she was saying. A few audience members said they caught some of what she was expressing.
I could understand all the other cast member’s monologues, even her ne’er-do-well scoundrel, father Alfred P. Doolittle who is impeccably played by Martin Fisher. In fact, one of my favorite scenes is when he is engaging in raunchy almost obscene behavior with the high-kicking Can-can dancers while they are all ironically belting out a rousing chorus of Get Me to the Church on Time. On opening night the cast was rewarded for their outstanding performance with a standing ovation.
See My Fair Lady at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois. All Broadway in Chicago Theatres has enhanced air filtration. For your safety and security, mobile tickets are available and all staff are masked and vaccinated. Audience members are required to mask up at all times throughout the theater (except when actively eating or drinking). For further details on COVID requirements and protocols visit Broadway in Chicago.
Photos: Courtesy of Joan Marcus