My Fair Lady, by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe - New York City Article
“My Fair Lady”
by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center
50 Lincoln Center Plaza, (212) 362-7600
I’m willing to tell you about this new production of My Fair Lady, I’m wanting to tell you about, and I’m waiting to tell you it. This splendid edition reminds us why it’s important to continually revive, restage, and rethink the essential works of the musical theater. Although the 1964 movie version is a classic and not likely to be improved upon (unlike, say, West Side Story - here’s hoping the proposed Steven Spielberg-Tony Kushner “remake” actually happens), this is still fundamentally a story for the stage. (For one thing, in the movie, it’s impossible not to notice how whenever the action shifts from any location other than 27A Wimpole Street, a huge dance number invariably ensues.) No one is likely to out-do Rex Harrison or Julie Andrews (or Audrey Hepburn), but among other things, the film version starts to suffer from “long movie fatigue” about two-and-a-half hours in, besides which, the somewhat ambiguous ending doesn’t necessarily work as well as the creators might have intended. Contrastingly, at the Vivian Beaumont, director Bartlett Sher has staged the second act so that the dramatic action and the suspense intensifies, rather than dissipates, as we race towards the climax, which, unlike the movie, really is a climax rather than merely a vague conclusion.
Apart from the narrative specifics, it’s a sonic delight to hear the classic songs sung with full orchestra, especially as sung by the three principals, Lauren Ambrose, Harry Hadden-Paton (I ask you, can one possibly imagine a more British name?), and Norbert Leo Butz. Ms. Ambrose, admirably, less stringently follows of any previous archetypes for Liza, while Mr. Butz’s portrayal of the well-named Doolittle seems more connected to his own previous history of embodying dirty rotten scoundrels. As for the new Higgins, it’s nearly impossible for anyone not to be compared to Harrison, but Mr. Hadden-Paton has more in the way of vocal chops and perhaps less in the way of comic ones, though he excels at showing Higgins’s emotional breakdown at the end of the story, and his portrayal of the impervious professor’s descent from superhuman to mere mortal is thoroughly devastating. This is especially true for his 11th hour soliloquy, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” - one of Lerner and Loewe’s many masterpieces of musical drama - in which, rather like Angelo in Measure for Measure, Higgins finally admits to himself (and to the audience) that he actually has a heart and even a libido.
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)