The Pittsburgh Public Theater is taking audiences to the streets and ballrooms of London with its production of My Fair Lady that opened this weekend. Based on George Bernard Shaw‘s book Pygmalion, the original 1956 production of this show was a huge hit and has been a favorite by audiences since.
This show is full of colorful musical numbers and the entire cast delivered each one beautifully. Kimberly Burns (pictured below) plays the grungy flower girl version of Eliza in a way that gives comical character to “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” and “Just You Wait”, while her strong, clear soprano voice fills the theater during “I Could Have Danced All Night” and later numbers. Benjamin Howes (also pictured below) has dialed in the arrogant confidence of Henry Higgins from the delivery of lines to the constant smugness exuding from his face. Howes commanded the stage during his hurried dashing about the stage and speedy delivery of Higgins’ musical tirade “I’m An Ordinary Man”.
Bill Nolte (pictured below) as rosy faced, gin soaked Alfred P. Doolittle really lightened up the atmosphere with his band of rowdy ruff necks and their musical numbers. Any time he was on stage, all eyes were on him as he stumbled around the set and led processions of people through the streets, singing, dancing, and drinking, of course. In contrast, John Little played the reserved, soft spoken Colonel Pickering. His interactions with Burns come off as very sympathetic and fatherly in comparison to the abrasiveness of Higgins towards Eliza, adding balance to their dynamic. While Joe Jackson delivered “On the Street Where You Live” in true professional fashion, his portrayal of Freddy comes off as overly dopey. Freddy is infatuated with Eliza and Jackson shows audiences that, but always in an over eager childish way that makes one expect him to shout “gee whiz!” at any moment.
The set featured a huge, ornate three story library with a spiral staircase leading to the second floor door. The large double doors in the rear opened to a room with multicolored hardwood that served as either a ballroom floor or a library with a high back sofa and phonograph equipment sitting atop small tables. While the look of it all was truly outstanding when the scenes took place in the previously mentioned rooms, it left something to be desired when the characters where out on the streets of London. During the duration of the play, at no point were the bookcases hidden from view and the only prop to signify the scene was outside was a push cart for filled with brooms. The lighting is done in a way that draws the attention to the appropriate focal points during street scenes and solo numbers.
A lot of the movement on stage involved maneuvering around chairs or the sofa that sat center stage, as well as sitting and tiptoeing near the orchestra pit railing. The choreography is simple, but synchronized and well executed and there was no lack of talent from the ensemble. When the space is opened up for the street and ballroom scenes, the ensemble fills the space with dancing, often involving circling around a focal character.
Overall the production is very good, carried by the talent of the cast. The script, in this day and age, is a little off putting at times in its attitude towards women and its stereotypes of the poor. With Higgins’ weak redemption and the eventual return of Eliza to him, I am left simply asking why she would make such a choice. While the themes and stereotypes of this show may be a little outdated and even a bit offensive, the entertainment value of the characters and music still holds its worth.
My Fair Lady at the Pittsburgh Public Theater
Written by Alan J Lerner and Frederic Loewe
Directed by Ted Pappas
Runs through February 22nd and tickets can be purchased here.
Special thanks to PPT for two complimentary press tickets.
Performance Date: January 29, 2015