All of us have had the opportunity to make improvements in our lives and careers. Would we do it if it was part of a wager by other people and we had little control in the circumstances? Once we have successfully met our goals, are we happy with the results, with the changes that we have made personally, with the changes in our relationships? Eliza confronts these questions in My Fair Lady the classic which opened in Kansas City on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the Kauffman Center that runs through February 12.
My Fair Lady is based on the play “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw. Henry Higgins (Jonathan Grunert) is an upper-class professor who can tell where a person is from by listening to their speech patterns. He wanders upon a working-class flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Madeline Powell), and Colonel Pickering (John Adkison) –a noted Englishman who also enjoys linguistics in Covent Garden. Eliza requests Higgins to give her speech lesson to help her acquire a job in a flower shop. The plot revolves around a bet by Higgins with his house guest, Pickering, that Higgins can transform Eliza from a working-class flower girl to a “proper lady.”
My Fair Lady is a revival that is worthy of its origins. Its Broadway debut in 1956 starred Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. Harrison later starred in the 1964 movie with Audrey Hepburn. The production boasts memorable songs such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “The Rain in Spain,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “On the Street Where You Live.”
Powell convincedly portrays Eliza’s transformation from a “guttersnipe” to perceived royalty. Grunert depicts a cynical, snobbish, self-proclaimed permanent bachelor Higgins. Adkison is impressive as Higgins colleague. Michael Hegarty portrayal as Eliza’s dad, Alfred P Doolittle, is spot on. The conversation between Higgins and Alfred Doolittle about money and morality has your mind swirling!
Technically, the production was refreshing. The set designs by Michael Yeargan portrays the grittiness of Covent Garden and the luxury of Higgins’ mansion in upscale London. Costume Designer Catherine Zuber convincingly transformed the flower girl into royalty.
My Fair Lady is a trip down memory lane. In December, on a flight from Israel, I watched the classic film starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison and it confirmed that My Fair Lady will be performed and appreciated for years. This production inserts some modern cultural themes that distract from the classic story, a trend not unusual in today’s Broadway productions.
The production, though, still has a solid story, well-defined characters, and many memorable songs. It reminds us that often we get what we want, but do we like what we become in the process. It reminds us to question if the successful result is worthy of the sacrifices.
MY FAIR LADY
February 7 – 12, 2023