A Light and Loverly My Fair Lady at the Lyric Opera

A must-hear production

From the moment the curtain opens to reveal the columns of the impeccable white set and the lively colors of the crowd leaving the opera house, you know that the Lyric Opera’s version of My Fair Lady is putting its focus on what’s important – the characters. They are brimming with life and action in a set that perfectly frames them and keeps them front and center at all times from the first line to the last.
The pale backgrounds continue in each iteration of the set throughout the production, including Higgins’ study and the Embassy ballroom, bringing the characters to life as if they’re leaping off a blank page. It’s very cleverly done.

Lisa O’Hare’s Eliza Doolittle is both downtrodden and spirited. Richard E. Grant is the most sparkling, effusive, and cheerful Henry Higgins you can imagine, but it works. Grant’s performance makes Higgins seem more carried away by his enthusiasms and a bit less mean-spirited than he can sometimes appear. This just adds to the Lyric’s production’s lighthearted and happy presentation.

And when the brilliant Cockney chorus of Hoss Brock, Nikolas Wenzel, Peter Morgan and Joe Shadday comes in, you realize that the Opera is not going to disappoint you in the singing department, either. The voices are absolutely up to its usual standard, though this is musical theatre and not opera. In fact, every chorus number points out again and again how complex and interesting My Fair Lady’s score is, with its intertwining harmonies and each voicing apparent while the singers blend perfectly.

Lisa O’Hare makes a very strong Eliza. Her voice is flexible and emotive in both low and high register and her acting of Eliza’s struggles vs. the English language are charming and her own. Her performance is not a rehash of the film or soundtrack versions. She does occasionally remind one of Audrey Hepburn in the film version, but that is largely due to O’Hare’s gracefulness. It’s a matter of movement and elegant stillness in the more ladylike scenes that recalls Hepburn’s dignity in the role, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It only adds to Eliza’s transformation from guttersnipe to lady.
Richard E. Grant is the sunniest Higgins ever and makes it easy to overlook the character’s darker aspects. He keeps to the talk-singing tradition of the role but occasionally betrays a note here and there that makes you wonder what his singing voice is really like. His hurt and dejection at Eliza’s defection in the end is bigger than it is usually played, but it is in keeping with the rest of the performance so makes sense here.

Nicholas Le Prevost is a solid and dependable Colonel Pickering, making an excellent contrast to Higgins’ manic energy. Cindy Gold is possibly the best Mrs. Pearce ever, with amazing deadpan comedy chops and moments where she gets carried away with the action. Helen Carey as Mrs. Higgins is just the right measure of exasperated affection when dealing with her son and feminist solidarity in helping Eliza.

Donald Maxwell as Alfred Doolittle does an outstanding job with a part that can sometimes be simply ridiculous or outrageously sexist. He’s fun. And his sidekicks Jamie, played by James Romney, and Harry, played by Jackson Evans, lead the Cockney chorus with glee in all the major numbers. You really never want to see them leave the stage, as delightful as everything else is.
And in a standout performance with perhaps the best singing of any Freddy Eynsford-Hill in history is Bryce Pinkham. It almost makes you think that Eliza is actually going to run off with him, if only to hear him sing some more. You find yourself sad that he only has the one song, as fabulous as it is, when in many productions you just want the milksoppy Freddy out of the way.

Shaw’s Pygmalion and the usual versions of My Fair Lady set the story firmly in the Downton Abbey era prior to the First World War complete with its glorious gowns. The Lyric’s production advances it 15 years to the end of the 1930s. This is possibly the single most hideous era of 20th Century women’s fashion – the Great Depression not lending itself to beauty – and it can be seen in Eliza’s ugly shoes and heavy brown stockings in several scenes. The costume designers do an amazing job with period correctness and the costumes are superb, but they are just of the time and in the cases of the lower class characters, they’re drab in the colors of the era.

While the clothing for Ascot and the Embassy Ball do not disappoint, it seems somewhat mystifying to make this choice, and is the only fault that might be found in this production. If you go expecting to find the usual gorgeous gowns, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with a different style of gorgeous gowns in only a few of the scenes.

It is a splendid production despite that.  The excellence of the singing can not be overstated.  So it is a must-see for any lover of Broadway. Tickets are available at the Lyric Box office and the production runs through May 21.

Photographs by Todd Rosenberg and AndrewCioffi.

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About Suzanne Magnuson 68 Articles
Professional writer with 20 plus years of experience. M.A., M.B.A. Travel Editor and Social Media Manager for Splash Magazines Worldwide. Senior Editor. Member of Advertising Team.

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