Cape Playhouse's "My Fair Lady": Move Your Bloomin'.....

Ashley Brown & Jeff McCarthy in "My Fair Lady"
(photo: Edie Weitrich)

Astonishingly, the current Cape Playhouse production of “My Fair Lady” is the first ever in the 89 year history of the company. The hugely successful and universally praised 1956 Broadway musical, with Lyrics and Book by Alan Jay Lerner (based on George Bernard Shaw's 1912 play “Pygmalion”) and Music by Frederick Loewe, won six Tonys including Best Musical. Shaw's play had been filmed in 1938 (winning him an Oscar for adapted screenplay). The musical was subsequently adapted for the screen in 1964, winning Oscars for Best Film, Director and Actor as well as five other Academy Awards (infamously not including the miscast, clearly dubbed and unnominated Audrey Hepburn). While Shaw's concerns were about the inequitable distribution of wealth, the unjust English class system, and the submission of women (a man surely ahead of his time), the musical was much more of a love story. It was blessed with an incredibly lovely score that led to the original cast album's two-year chart-topping status and produced such popular hits as “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, and “On the Street Where You Live”. (The latter was conceived as a throwaway song included in order to make a major set change in the days before today's complex technical expertise). The choice of this work as the centerpiece of Cape Playhouse's season was a risky one, considering how well received the original stage musical, film adaptation and several revivals were. The question was whether this revival of the beloved musical would measure up to its storied past.
One needn't have had any concern, as, despite the requirements of the piece, this version is a winner. Directed by Tony-nominated Hunter Foster, this production's Eliza Doolittle is Ashley Brown (Broadway's memorably supercalifragilisticexpialidocious “Mary Poppins”, soon to be portraying the Mother Abbess in the National Tour of “The Sound of Music”) and its Professor Henry Higgins is Jeff McCarthy (“Urinetown”, “Side Show”, “Chicago”). As the Cockney flower seller, Brown is totally believable, as is her transformation into high society; equally important, her vocal chops are amazingly perfect from the moment she bursts into song (with “Wouldn't It Be Loverly?”). As her professor of phonetics, McCarthy is also perfectly cast, managing the difficult balance of pomposity and endearing curmudgeonliness seemingly effortlessly, with a fine voice to boot. The roles of Higgins' sidekick Colonel Pickering (Ed Dixon), Eliza's suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Constantine Germanacos), Mrs. Higgins (Catherine Flye), and the housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (Ruth Gottschall) are all impeccably performed. And in the crucial role of Eliza's dustman father, Alfred P. Doolittle, James Brennan plays with gusto (with two opportunities to shine in his numbers “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time”). The ensemble dances and sings with remarkable skill and energy, which is more than can be said for the relatively bland rendition of “The Rain In Spain” sung by the principals.

The Direction by Foster and Choreography by Lorin Latarro are by and large superbly executed for the Cape Playhouse stage. There are a few directorial missteps (the scene at Ascot, for example, with touches that are quite funny but inappropriately anachronistic for the setting in 1912), but they're overshadowed by the general excellence of this production. The technical contributions are all effective, from the ingenious Scenic Design by Jason Sherwood, to the very well-executed Costume Design by Gail Baldoni, and the Lighting Design by Erik Fox and the Sound Design by James R. McCartney. The fine Musical Direction (and reduced orchestrations) were by Nick DeGregorio, who at one point had to deal with a blackout in the pit.

One might envy the newcomer to this piece of musical royalty; familiarity with the story and score (even to the anticipatory song cues) can impact one's full enjoyment of the play. But even if it's a well-remembered treasure, it's still a treasure today as much as it was in its first incarnation almost sixty years ago. In short, while we've often walked down this street before, the pavement won't stay beneath your feet. Don't miss this one, but get tickets while you still can. It's only here until August 8th, so it's time you moved your bloomin'.....well, you know.

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