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.
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.
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.