Classic musicals can be fun, and My Fair Lady that is running at MBS Theatre now, demonstrates why the classic piece of musical theatre gets staged again and again all these years. However, in the particular production, one can’t shake off the feeling how ‘traditional’ this musical is.
My Fair Lady features book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. Adapted from the play Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw, it is the story of Henry Higgins, a Professor of Phonetics, who bets friend and fellow linguist Colonel Pickering that he can train anyone to speak so properly that they could pass as royalty. He chooses as his subject Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower seller with a strong Cockney accent. He takes her in and begins her complete transformation. Along the way, Eliza’s transformation inspires a transformation of his own in the cool heart of confirmed bachelor Henry Higgins.
With a wordy script (and some wordy patter songs), director Jeffrey B. Moss keeps the pace going, but some parts of the musical still feels rather static. For example, when Eliza breaks into the song ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’, she sings most of the song seated, which is odd for a song of that expresses how she can’t stop dancing. Freddie, Eliza’s admirer, does the song ‘On The Street Where You Lived’ standing completely still and facing the audience, like he is delivering a concert. Furthermore, the entire street is completely empty, which render his lyric, ‘People stop and stare, they don’t bother me,’ completely illogical. All these slow down the pacing of the musical. The pace does pick up at the second act.
All these are made up by the other aspects of the musical. The gorgeous set by Kenneth Foy lends a fresh feel to the classic musical. The choreography by Denis Michael Jones injected energy to the dancing scenes.
Chris Carsten makes a good Higgins. It takes me a while to warm up to him though. Henry Higgins may be an arrogant, misogynistic person, he is also of the upper class. Carsten does well on the arrogant quality, but I find it difficult to detect his gentleman background. It is also a pity that the director directs Carsten to speak out all his songs completely that it feels repetitive after a while. Carsten is a lot better in the second act though, and he is most effective in his hurt by Eliza’s departure, and his realization of his feelings for her.
Aurora Florence shines as Eliza Doolittle. Her beautiful, soprano voice soars as she hits all the high notes. Florence also makes the most believable transformation I have even seen. It is precisely because of this that in the night I saw, when Eliza pronounced the famous line ‘The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain’ correctly, the audience applauded. You feel for Florence’s Eliza because when she is hurt or when she is in despair, you believe her.
This production is supported by a very strong supporting cast. Michael Brian Dunn is brilliant as Elizas’ father. He has two songs, ‘With A Little Bit of Luck’ and ‘Get Me to the Church on Time’, which always feels out of place to me because they have little to do with the main storyline, but Dunn infuses the songs with so much energy and charm that I enjoyed it. Richard Springle plays Colonel Pickering with fumbling gentleness, and Daniel Cardenas’ lovely tenor voice infused the song ‘On The Street Where You Live’ with lovelorn tenderness.
Jesse Graham as the inimitable housekeeper Mrs Pearce and Kathleen Huber as the sympathetic mother Mrs Higgins make their small parts sparkle. Despite very little stage time, both of them leave a strong impression. The energetic ensemble also livens up the show whenever they appear.
Although this charming production does not really manage to dust off the mothballs, it is still a fun ride.
Get your tickets here. My Fair Lady runs till 2nd March.