Friday, June 13, 2008

Tonight's Theater: My Fair Lady

Tonight my daughters and I had a wonderful evening seeing MY FAIR LADY at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

This touring production stars British actors Christopher Cazenove as Henry Higgins and Lisa O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle. Cazenove is best known to American audiences as Charlie on Masterpiece Theatre's great THE DUCHESS OF DUKE STREET and as Ben Carrington on DYNASTY. O'Hare was the third actress to play the title role in MARY POPPINS in London's West End and will return to MARY POPPINS for the UK tour when the MY FAIR LADY tour is completed.

Cazenove knows his way around a stage and is a compelling, charismatic presence as Professor Henry Higgins. While the ghost of Rex Harrison is present in some of Cazenove's Harrison-perfect line readings -- which is a good thing -- Cazenove also makes the role fully his, including a childlike petulance at times, which is most amusing.

Lovely O'Hare makes a winning Eliza, in a very entertaining performance. Her voice is wispier than one expects in such a demanding role, but very pleasing in the lower registers; my only disappointment was when she moved to the climactic high notes in a couple of songs, the tone veered a bit sharp. The end of "I Could Have Danced All Night" should be gloriously thrilling, not slightly wince-inducing.

It was a rare treat to see Marni Nixon -- who dubbed Audrey Hepburn as Eliza in the movie -- as Professor Higgins' mother. In a non-singing role, Nixon is very amusing as Mrs. Higgins, who is simultaneously grand yet down-to-earth, and not very approving of her son's behavior. (I've been reading Nixon's book, I COULD HAVE SUNG ALL NIGHT, which is quite interesting.)

Justin Bohon did justice to "On the Street Where You Live," though his characterization of Freddy was a bit loopier than I anticipated. The rest of the company was very professional, and the staging of "Ascot Gavotte" was particularly enjoyable. The choreography of "With a Little Bit of Luck" seems to have been partially inspired by IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER -- think Gene Kelly, Michael Kidd, Dan Dailey, and trash can lids -- or maybe by a little bit of STOMP. The sets were excellent.

A lovely production in every way, which I highly recommend. The show appears to be nearing the end of its tour, but it opens in Arizona next week.

Below, the staircase in Segerstrom Hall at the O.C. Performing Arts Center:

Reviews: The Long Beach Press-Telegram says "Cazenove is great...O'Hare is sweet and scrappy."

From The Daily Pilot: "...the spotlight gravitates toward Christopher Cazenove as the martinet dialectician Higgins. Cazenove dominates the stage with a wall-rattling voice and a leonine growl, adding an aura of physical menace to what previously has been primarily intellectual superiority. His 'I’m an Ordinary Man' and 'A Hymn to Him' numbers resonate with the primal force of this superior character. An outstanding performance."

The Hollywood Reporter: "One of the best musicals ever, with a production to match...a treat. How often do you get to see a classic musical staged with the brilliance it deserves and cast in a way to grant an audience the additional pleasure of seeing it again for the first time?" More: "What's especially gratifying about this the quality of the acting."

Related posts: Remake Coming of My Fair Lady; Tonight's Theater: The Phantom of the Opera.

April 9, 2010 Update: British Actor Christopher Cazenove, 1943-2010.

July 25, 2016 Update: Sad news today, the passing of Marni Nixon.


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