My Fair Lady at the Orphem: an old musical given new life

By Nat French

I’ve never been a fan of old musicals. There are too many love ballads irrelevant to the plot, too many bad jokes coming from stock characters and far too much spontaneous, concerted dancing.”My Fair Lady,” which opened at the Orpheum Theatre last Wednesday, certainly fits that description. But “My Fair Lady” is one of those old musicals that you can’t write off so easily, no matter how hard you might try. The songs are too familiar, the story too warm, the characters too unrealistically eccentric. Whatever preconception you might have of old musicals, even if you don’t expect to like this particular one, you will have changed your mind by the conclusion of the overture. By the end of the night, you will be grinning sheepishly when you realize you’ve been humming “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” on the light rail.

Trevor Nunn’s cast are solid stewards of the show’s rich tradition. Dana DeLisa plays a charming Eliza, and it is a shame she will be replaced after March 2. She has a subtle comedy and a touching fragility, and although she occasionally blurs the line between her Cockney and High British dialects, her singing voice is elegant and becoming of her character’s ladyhood. Playing her opposite and foil, Christopher Cazenove brings charisma to Professor Henry Higgins, although he rarely softens his character’s pompous edge, making the pair’s reconciliation at the play’s end less than satisfying. Walter Charles and Justin Bohon, as Colonel Pickering and Freddy Eynsford-Hill respectively, were both prone to break the limits of their characters’ genteel sensibility for a cheap laugh, a tendency especially pronounced in the latter. Bohon also had a way of extending notes well into the next measure until I could almost feel the conductor urging him to catch up, which sullied his otherwise exceptional rendition of “On The Street Where You Live.”

The real stars of the night were the dancers under Matthew Bourne’s choreography. “With a Little Bit of Luck,” featuring cocknies tap-dancing on trash can lids and led by Tim Jerome’s rascally Alfred P. Doolittle was easily the show’s most enjoyable number. Jerome exploited his immense energy and obvious joy to wonderful effect, winning the audience over from the very first.

Trevor Nunn, of Royal Shakespeare Company renown, did a fine job drawing out the contrast between the piece’s lighthearted frivolity and occasional tenderness. Under Nunn’s direction, “My Fair Lady” leaves its audience feeling not just entertained but reassured of life’s simpler joys. “My Fair Lady” takes you back, not just to an imaginary past where conflict can be resolved into love through the mediating powers of a vigorous dance routine, but to the time and place in your life when you believed that was possible.