Based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalian and Gabriel Pascal's 1938 film, the Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady gets a smart revival under Michael Arden's expert direction at Bay Street Theater. You know the story: a lowly flower seller, Eliza Doolittle, morphs from guttersnipe to goddess aided by the elocution lessons of one Henry Higgins and his sideman Pickering, to familiar songbook classics. But even in the best fairy tales, transformations have consequences both good and bad, as we learn from this thoroughly entertaining chestnut.
Especially coming from Shaw whose original work features his trademark philosophical discourse on class and morality, with neither the rich and well placed nor the poor and powerless any the superior. A sight to behold, Eliza sheds her rags and shines in rented jewels. Transformation complete, Eliza must now contemplate where exactly does she belong? In the end, she seems caught in the middle of two men of means who can't seem to live without her. My husband wanted to know, why not marry both? Simply: neither one is worthy, or anywhere near being her equal.
For all his erudition Henry Higgins (Paul Alexander Nolan, fresh from Bright Star on Broadway) is an obnoxious, narcissistic elitist, Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Bobby Conte Thornton with perhaps the most wonderful voice in the company) is simply a child man, even when he croons "On the Street Where You Live," a song that squarely situates him as a stalker. The music is, well, "loverly:" Accompanied by a pair of pianists, the first-rate ensemble delivers the signature songs: "With a Little Bit of Luck," "The Rain in Spain," and I Could Have Danced All Night."
In the supporting role of Eliza's father, ruddy-faced John O'Creagh is excellent, with speeches that most reflect Shaw's stance on social status. A common street drunk, he comes to rue the middle class' insistence upon morality, when, through the enterprise of Higgins, he has respectability dumped upon him. And as Higgins' mother Carole Shelley knows her son's shortcomings, not suffering fools gladly. The women are deliciously modern even when their circumstances put them in the second class. Kelli Barrett's Eliza is exceptional, and by suggesting her life to be a singular frontier that she herself will forge--(think Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own), she is Shaw's vision of the new woman.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.