While the idea of reinventing a classic Broadway musical may seem slightly questionable at first thought, the SF Playhouse takes this concept to new bounds, delivering an exceptional production of “My Fair Lady” that will transcend any doubts one may have.
Taking the story of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” and the original book and score of the Lerner and Loewe 1956 masterpiece “My Fair Lady,” SF Playhouse’s artistic director Bill English condenses the musical spectacular into a mere 11-man cast with simply two pianos for accompaniment — all of which are set on the stage of a miniscule 100-seat black box theater. This version shines a new light on the story by stripping it completely to its core, thus bringing forth a far more personal experience for the audience members. The production particularly focuses on and emphasizes the individuality and emotions of each character, as well as their relationships, all while preserving the true essence of the timeless tale.
“My Fair Lady” takes place in early 20th century London and follows the journey of Eliza Doolittle (Monique Hafen), a 20-something Cockney flower girl, as she seeks to lose her accent under the guidance of Henry Higgins (Johnny Moreno), a self-obsessed phonetics professor of a wealthier class, and his partner in teaching Colonel Pickering (Richard Frederick). Now throw in an alcoholic father (Alfred P. Doolittle, played by Charles Dean), a socialite mother (Mrs. Higgins, played by Karen Hirst), a doe-eyed suitor (Freddy Eynsford-Hill played by Justin Gillman), as well as an ensemble of other hilarious characters.
The sheer talent of the cast in undeniable. In comparison to the original production, this one boasts a much younger and rugged Higgins, played by the vibrant Moreno, to better accommodate the romantic chemistry between the two leads. Eliza is portrayed by the divine Hafen, whose renditions of the age-old songs “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” sung previously by Hollywood legend Julie Andrews, leave one craving for more. Each character is lathered in personality and charm from head to toe — leaving you smitten and providing an entertaining musical spectacle from all views of the stage.
Bill English’s creative ingenuity is evident from start to finish. Each scene is carried out with great comedic timing and staged splendidly, even on a space so small in size. The set, designed by Nina Ball, fits snugly on the compact stage but allows the characters and scenes to flow through and transition without question. It’s truly astonishing to see a musical of such high caliber, in terms of extravagance and lavishness, be performed in such an intimate setting and succeed so brilliantly in its execution. “My Fair Lady” not only marks the final show in SF Playhouse’s 2011-12 season, but it is also the last production to take place in the Sutter Street theater. Come Fall, SF Playhouse will be moving to a new location twice the size of its current home.
As the show comes to a close and the lights draw to a dim, you will be sure to be left singing the classic Lerner and Loewe show tunes as you dance out the theatre. By adding a new twist to a timeless classic, this version of “My Fair Lady” mesmerizes with its originality and daring new take on what’s been said to be “the perfect musical”. With its beautifully crafted set and perfectly casted ensemble under the fantastic direction of Bill English and producing director Susi Damilano, SF Theatre’s “My Fair Lady” is a delectable marvel that captivates, impresses and enchants.
Comments should remain on topic, concerning the article or blog post to which they are connected. Brevity is encouraged. Posting under a pseudonym is discouraged, but permitted. The Daily Cal encourages readers to voice their opinions respectfully in regard to the readers, writers and contributors of The Daily Californian. Comments are not pre-moderated, but may be removed if deemed to be in violation of this policy. Click here to read the full comment policy.