Richard and I saw *My Fair Lady* on Broadway on 6/26/18. This was the first Broadway show album I bought with my own money, I've loved this show for many, many years and had never seen it onstage (unless you count a community theatre production in Lake Geneva in the 80s, and the less said about that the better) so I was all hopped up to see this splashy new Broadway production.
The show is about a phonetics expert, Henry Higgins, in Edwardian London. He has an exchange with a flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, one evening outside Covent Garden and makes a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering that he can pass her off as a great lady in six months. She scores a success at a ball six months later and she and Higgins dance around each other, romantically speaking, for the rest of the show.
Lauren Ambrose played Eliza - - I knew her from playing the teenage daughter on *Six Feet Under,* and though she's done a few shows since I moved here, I'd never seen her onstage. She was wonderful. She has a lovely voice, a strong personality, and inhabited the character in a deep and meaningful way. She put her own stamp on this well-worn role, but didn't do it in a gratuitous or showy way. Harry Hadden-Paton played Higgins - - I knew him primarily from *Downton Abbey,* he was paired up with Lady Edith in the final season. Adorable, in a somewhat pinched, English way. He had the most difficult role in the show, which he played with ease and grace. I'll compare Higgins to Joey in *Pal Joey:* the actor playing Joey has to make him lovable cad, but the actor playing Higgins has an even tougher job, he has to be a lovable asshole. The guy really is an asshole, there's no way around it. But the audience has to like him, has to be amused by him, and has to want him and Eliza to be together.
I read a few articles in the NY Times about how director Bartlett Sher tweaked the show for the #MeToo generation, to make Eliza more empowered. I felt these tweaks helped the show a lot, especially the change to the ending (which I won't explain, I don't want to be a spoiler - - email me if you want the details). Richard was bothered by the ending, but I thought it was very effective, especially because it was (to me) a surprise. Casting Ambrose and Hadden-Paton in the leads was one of the ways that the producers evened the scales in the power dynamic: in the original production they were played by Rex Harrison, a crusty 48 years old, and Julie Andrews, a dewy 21. Hadden-Paton is 37 and Ambrose is 40. It helped a lot to make Eliza a fully-formed woman in her prime, and helped just as much to make Higgins about the same age, rather than old enough to be her father.
Two other actors I want to mention: Jordan Donica played Eliza's suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill. He was handsome and sang like a dream, the audience went nutso for him. And best of all Dame Diana Rigg played Higgins's mother. What a thrill to see her onstage, she was extraordinary. Not much of a part, but she played it with great relish.
I suppose I should also mention Norbert Leo Butz as Eliza's father. The character has two severe disadvantages: first, while Higgins is a lovable asshole, this guy is just an asshole. He's basically pimping his own daughter, and we're supposed to chuckle at that. And he has two lousy songs, "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me To the Church On Time." That second song annoyed me big time. It was one of those deliberate, hard-working, show-stopping numbers that's supposed to thrill me and bring me to my feet. Well, I want to make that decision on my own. I don't want you telling me to do it. Butz didn't rise above the material, he was just as dreadful as the character. If it were up to me, I'd cut his character out of the show completely! I think it would be a big improvement.
The set! Thank you, Michael Yeargan, what a joy to see such an elaborate, gorgeous, old-fashioned set. Higgins's house wasn't just on a turntable, it was a turntable that moved forward and receded many times through the show. It was used thoughtfully, it wasn't just there to impress you.
I know I said that "Get Me To the Church On Time" was a lousy song, but if there's one person on earth who can score a success with it, it's the one and only Marilyn Maye: