My Fair Lady comes to Escondido with quick pacing, smart choreography, and thick cockney accents that twist vowels into silly garble. This revival of the adored Lerner & Loewe classic, at the Welk Resorts Theatre, is savvy comedy with a social undercurrent that resonates.
The songs are brilliant because they sound lovely and critique a rigid class system.
Lance Arthur Smith is intensely quick and as Henry Higgins, the conceited bachelor professor who transforms a weak and dirty street girl into a high class woman.
Shaina Knox gives Eliza Doolittle extra street smarts and spunk, and while early lines are indiscernible, it’s fascinating to hear her English evolve. She glides through songs such as “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
My Fair Lady is based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play, Pygmalion. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with a sculpture which came to life. The play slams the British class system and highlights women’s independence. My Fair Lady debuted on Broadway in 1956 with Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. It was a huge hit. A film version followed, and it’s been lauded as one of the greatest musicals.
It’s an old story about metamorphosis and blatant misogyny. In the musical, the songs don’t just pop in. They move the story along and make social commentary. They confirm that Higgins is a jerk and his treatment of Eliza is unfair.
In “Just You Wait,” Eliza sings about killing Higgins and we cheer. In the end, she chooses the man over the street, but she is in charge of her life, which must have been a thrill for women to contemplate back in the 1960s. We can imagine the sequel and a feminist Eliza.
Randall Hickman is a believable schemer as Eliza’s dad, and Ralph Johnson is a standout as the grandfatherly Col. Pickering. Susan Boland chases them all around as maid Mrs. Pearce, and M. Susan Peck steals several scenes as Henry’s high-society mother who’s had enough of him.
Kathy Brombacher directs this word-packed story of liberation at warp speed. The run time of 145 minutes zips by. Musical director Justin Gray and his tiny orchestra sound bigger than they are. Costumes by Janet Pitcher evoke Victorian photos and formalities. Every word and note sounds crisp, thanks to Patrick Hoyny’s sound design, and the intimate Welk venue has excellent sight lines.
There is much to admire about Orlando Alexander’s choreography, especially in the horse track scene “Ascot Gavotte.” Dressed in eye-popping variations of black and white, a smart ensemble leans and sings, “Pulses rushing! Faces flushing! Heartbeats speed up! I have never been so keyed up!” Unison poses are spot on, expressions are deadpan, and their cadence is high-class snobby at its best.
My Fair Lady runs Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays, through April 2, 2017. Welk Resorts Theatre, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido.