My Fair Lady
Lerner & Lowe
Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, NYC, July 7 2018
Time for that full disclosure thing again. I have a traumatic history with this show. I last saw it in about 2000(?) with Lisa at the Drury Lane theatre. I remember being quite excited because it started Jonathan Pryce as Henry Higgins. We had balcony tickets and within ten minutes the seat back in front of us was digging into my shins.
My Fair Lady is three hours long.
It was agony.
Anyway…I was a little hesitant about it. But this is the latest in a series of Lincoln Center revivals directed by Bartlett Sher. He’s previously done South Pacific and The King and I. This production stars Lauren Ambrose (TVs Six Feet Under), Henry Haden Paton (The Crown, Downton Abbey), Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, and Dame Diana Rigg (Avengers, Game of Thrones) – yes, Diana Rigg.
This was far better than the previous experience. The Beaumont is a massive theatre, three times as deep upstage behind the curtain as it is up front, allowing for huge sets. We got a talkback with the cast and stage manager after the show and the SM said the production cost millions. By way of example, a reproduction of Higgins smoking jacket needed to be made for the new understudy at a cost of $3300. The show switches back and forth between sparse empty stage for the Ascot race and the pub where we find Alfred Doolittle (With a Little Bit of Luck), medium set pieces on scenery wagons like Covent Garden and the Opera House where Eliza peddles flowers (“Wouldn’t it be Loverly”) and the enormous gargantuan revolving two story 20 foot high Higgins household where many of the scenes take place. Hell, this theatre is so big that they moved the entire 30 piece orchestra up on stage in its own bandstand during the party at the Ambassadors residence. (Though this did cause a significant sound disaster in the second musical number of Act Two, when all the mics failed apart from the snare drum and the harp).
This was an incredibly detailed production that helped me see what a great show this is. Not a dud song in the bunch. Lauren Ambrose was an amazing Eliza despite being an American. Paton was a fantastic Higgins making the role much funnier than I remember. Butz stole the show in Act ll with “Get me to the Church on Time” a raucous roof raising rendition complete with cancan dancers in drag. Diana Rigg was essentially doing what Maggie Smith would do – look impressive and get out some hilarious quips before leaving. Vocals were great, nice to see a diverse ensemble (though the audience wasn’t exactly diverse) and really just a pleasure to behold. In the days of the corporate musical (Frozen, Mean Girls, SpongeBob), it’s worth making the opportunity to see these revivals before they disappear altogether.
“I have often walked down the street before
But the pavement always
Stayed beneath my feet beforeAll at once am I
Several stories high
Knowing I’m on the street where you live”