The Asolo Rep's My Fair Lady.
How do you reinvigorate a deservedly beloved classic like My Fair Lady, making a show most of us have seen or at least listened to countless times somehow fresh and new? I’m not sure I know exactly how, but the Asolo Rep’s season opening production of this Lerner and Loewe hit seems to have accomplished it.
Certainly you make sure you have a talented cast, and with Andrea Prestinario as Cockney flower girl turned lady Eliza Doolittle and Jeff Parker as her Pygmalion, Professor Henry Higgins, you have that. It also helps to have a set design (by Russell Metheny) that both evokes 1912 London in a variety of locations and makes the transitions between scenes absolutely smooth and effortless, costumes (by Mara Blumenfeld) that serve to enhance and distinguish characters and class differences, and choreography (by Josh Rhodes) that makes wise use of an ensemble (many non-dancers) reduced from the original size.
But more than anything else, surely, credit must go to the direction of Frank Galati, who manages here (as he did with last season’s well-known drama Twelve Angry Men) to make us wait anxiously for the next turn in what is a familiar story. It’s a sort of alchemy, one aided, not in any way diminished, by the fact that this version of My Fair Lady uses only two pianos and two talented, collaborative players (Doug Peck and Ian Weinberger) to render all those lovely, witty tunes.
You won’t miss the larger orchestra, I suspect, because having the singers accompanied only by the pianos makes their transition from speech to song feel more natural, just as is the case when a number blooms into movement. Probably the biggest dance piece in this production is Act II’s Get Me to the Church on Time, but it feels spontaneous as Alfie Doolittle’s chums step out to send him off to wedded--well, definitely not bliss.
Andrew Boyer as Doolittle has the requisite slyness and life energy, but he’s also more intimidating than usual here; you can readily believe that he would smack his daughter Eliza and think nothing of it. Similarly, Joel Hatch’s Colonel Pickering feels bluffer, more of a military man than he is sometimes portrayed.
Penny Slusher as the long-suffering Mrs. Pearce, Sean Effinger-Dean as the endearingly dim Freddy, and Peggy Roeder as Mrs. Higgins, who faces every situation with the gracious smile of a woman who’s seen it all before, all turn in engaging performances. But it is, of course, Prestinario and Parker who especially succeed in imbuing these often-portrayed characters with their own individual spirits. Under Galati’s hand, it’s amazing how subtle the transformation of their feelings for each other can seem. One simple gesture in the play’s final scene, for example, speaks volumes about the nature of their relationship.
So, if you think you’ve no need to see My Fair Lady once more, think again. You’d be robbing yourself not to.
My Fair Lady continues through Dec. 23; call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.