Review: Broadway Revival (tour) of ‘My Fair Lady’ at The Orpheum (****1/2)

Shereen Ahmad as Eliza sings with “the Loverly quartet” (Colin Anderson, Christopher Faison, William Michaels, and Gerard M. Williams) in “My Fair Lady.” Photo Credit: Joan Marcus.

by Charles Kruger

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

Polish and pizazz is what we expect from the touring company of a celebrated Broadway show,  and “My Fair Lady” delivers, with a huge cast of singer/dancers, a gorgeous set, sparkling costumes, exuberant music, and thrilling performances. This “My Fair Lady” is a superb example of high end professional theatre.

The familiar story of Eliza Doolittle’s rise from Flower Girl to Upper Class Lady, and the accompanying comeuppance of her bullying teacher, Professor Henry Higgins, comes across as fresh as an ocean breeze blowing in from far away London across the Atlantic to New York, and all the way to San Francisco.

Shereen Ahmed is a formidable and athletic Eliza, anything but self-effacing or petite. She is equally convincing as the “deliciously dirty” flower girl and the triumphant queen of the ball. Among many fine moments, she shines brightly in her rendition of the marvelously comic song, “Just You Wait.” As she rages against the rudeness of Henry Higgins, she passes through rooms and up and down the stairways of Higgins’ Wimpole Street mansion magically rendered on a turnable stage by set designer Michael Yeargen.

As Higgins, Laird Mackintosh is an obnoxious man with a compelling vision whose strong personality and sincere  commitment to his ideals cannot but charm us (and Eliza) even as he repels. Mackintosh offers plenty of subtlety in his interpretation.

Higgins and Eliza, of course, are what it’s all about, but they are admirably supported by an excellent cast, all of them stand outs. Adam Grupper is a stand out among standouts giving us plenty of laughs as the dustman philosopher, Alfred P. Doolittle. And Sam Simahk’s puppy dog rendition of the lovelorn Freddy Eynsford-Hill is irresistable, and sung to perfection. Remember the name: Broadway will be Simahk’s home for a long time to come. JoAnna Rhinehart as the hearty Mrs. Eynsford-Hill is absolutely delicious, making much of her moment in the spotlight.

It was reputed that this production would offer us a somewhat revisionist presentation of “My Fair Lady,” bringing out its feminist themes and George Bernard Shaw’s social commentary. But, aside from a rather odd display of suffragettes marching the streets as Alfred P. carouses the night away en route to his wedding, this is not the case. For all their many charms, old style Broadway musicals from the 1950s are not known for thematic nuance. Eliza’s poverty, and her brutal life, are glossed over with sentiment.

By contrast, when SF Playhouse presented their fantastic revisionist version back in 2012, the “Loverly quartet” was a collection of brutal men, abusively making fun of Eliza and bringing home her predicament with visceral power.

But that’s a quibble. For the most part, nuance thrives in regional theatres, and commercialism thrives when Broadway goes on tour to strut her stuff. I’m not knocking it.

This “My Fair Lady” is as close to Broadway perfection as you’re going to find west of the Great White Way. Go and enjoy!

“My Fair Lady” continues at The Orpheum thorugh November 28, 2021. For further information, click here.

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Rating: ****1/2 (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
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“My Fair Lady” book & lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, music by Frederick Lowe, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s play andGabriel Pascal’s motion picture, “Pygmalion.” Produced by The Lincoln Center Theater. Director: Bernard Sher. Choreographer:   Christopher Gatelli. Music Supervision: Ted Sperling. Sets: Michael Yeargan. Costumes: Catherine Zuber. Lighting: Donald Holder. Sound: Marc Salzberg.

Cast:

Eliza Doolittle: Shereen Ahmed. Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Sam Simahk. Mrs. Eynesford-Hill: JoAnna Rhinehart. Ms. Clary Eynesford-Hill: Aisha Mitchell. Colonel Pickering: Kevin Pariseau. Selsey Man: Lee Zarrett. Professor Henry Higgins: Laird Mackintosh. Hoxton Man: William Michals. The “Loverly Quartet:” Colin Anderson, Christopher Faison, William Michaels, Gerard M. Williams. Frank, The Bartender: Mark Banik. Harry: Patrick Carr. Jamie: William Michaels. Alfred P. Doolittle: Adam Grupper. Flower Girl: Colleen Grate. Mrs. Pearce: Gayton Scott. Mrs. Hopkins: Mary Callanan. Higgins’ Butlers: Colin Anderson, Christopher Faison. Higgins’ Maids: Mary Callanan, Nicole Ferguson, Juliane Godfrey, Colleen Grate. Mrs. Higgins: Leslie Alexander.  Charles: Brandon Leffler. Stewards: Michael Biren, Gerard M. Williams. Lord Boxington: Christopher Faison. Lady Boxington: Samantha Sturm. Constables: Michael Biren. Gerard M. Williams. Professor Zoltan Karpathy: Lee Zarrett. Hostess: Samantha Sturm. Footmen: Christopher Faison, William Michals. Queen of Transylvania: Elena Camp. Mrs. Higgins’ Servants: Brandon Leffler, Rommel Pierre O’Choa. Ensemble: Rajeer Alford, Colin Anderson, Mark Banik, Michael Biren, Mary Callanan, Elena Camp, Christopher Faison, Nicole Ferguson, Juliane Godfrey, Colleen Grate, Patrick Kerr, Brandon Leffler, Rommel Pierre O’Choa, Kevin Quillon, JoAnna Rhinehart, Samantha Sturm, Gerard M. Williams, Minami Yusui

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