Tuesday night was opening night for My Fair Lady at the Orpheum and the theater was packed. The show is being directed by Broadway legend Tony Award-winner Bartlett Sher who is known for his rich, lush Lincoln Center productions. And his tradition continued with My Fair Lady.
The backdrops were beautiful, graced with pastel skies and exquisite London streets. The home of Henry Higgins had a circular design and pivoted to expose other rooms in the house. The performers would move from room to room as the home spun to reveal other parts of the house. Two of the main rooms had spiral staircases and upper stories, as the performers moved up and down the steps and into different rooms on both stories. The rooms consisted of rich wood finishes and bright furniture. The costumes were also quite exquisite, especially so during the scene at the races and the final ball.
The orchestra located under the stage with only the conductor visible, was sharp and the acoustics in the Orpheum are superb. I have seen videos of earlier productions of My Fair Lady along with the 1964 movie with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison and loved seeing it live and hearing the legendary songs.
The story begins with a young Cockney street girl, Eliza Doolittle, selling flowers on a London street. She has a chance meeting with Linguistics Professor Henry Higgins, who makes a bet with a friend (Colonel Pickering), that he can transform the raggard street girl with a thick, unintelligible accent into a proper lady that can speak in a proper fashion. Eliza, thinking the lessons could help her get a job as an assistant in a flower shop, goes to Higgins house and agrees to the training. Higgins takes the girl in and the experiment begins.
While Eliza is at Higgins home, her father, Alfred P. Doolittle, who is also poor, drops by Higgins House to see why Eliza has moved in with a strange man. Higgins explains the training, offers Alfred some money and says he will introduce him to someone that would be interested in him. Alfred accepts the money and allows Eliza to continue her arrangement with Higgins.
Eliza’s first big test is at a race track. Her and Higgins attend the track at a box owned by Higgin’s mother. Especially memorable was the large, ornate hat worn by Eliza. It was quite a sight and I don’t know how it managed to stay on her head. At the track one of the attendee’s, Freddie, become quite smitten with Eliza. Eliza does well, except near the end of a race where she cusses and screams at a horse she was betting on. Freddie camps out at Higgins residence, hoping to catch Eliza, but she refuses to come out of the house.
The training continues until the final test at the Embassy Ball. The ball costumes and the backdrops/lighting are lovely and Eliza has everyone believing she is a lady. She impresses the Royalty at the ball and is a favorite on the dance floor. Upon returning home, Higgins and Pickering declare the experiment a success. Eliza is insulted that she is not given any credit for her part in the training and moves out of Higgins house. Freddie is still waiting for her outside the house and helps her move to Higgin’s mother’s house.
During the training sessions with Eliza, Higgins softens and falls in love with Eliza despite his frequent claims of not needing a woman and questioning why a woman can’t be more like a man. Eliza becomes more confident and strong as she grows into a lady. Alfred Doolittle inherits a large amount of money from the man Higgins introduces him to and marries his long time girlfriend.
The performances were wonderful, especially by Shereen Ahmed, who played Eliza. It was interesting to see her character develop and transform on stage. I loved hearing the songs again, which I hadn’t heard in a while. It took me back to a time when life was simpler and plays were more about costumes and designs and splendor.
My Fair Lady at the Orpheum is a wonderful play. See it, you won’t be disappointed.