It’s literally “off to the races,” for another Stage Right blockbuster with the arrival of My Fair Lady at the Crighton Theatre. Director, Manny Cafeo, has done it again with another splashy Crighton success in the tradition of his earlier productions of Lend Me a Tenor, The Producers, and one of my own personal favorites, 2015’s Singin’ in the Rain. That latter starred the gifted actress and talented songbird, Sara Preisler. How fortunate we are that Mr. Cafeo has chosen her for this portrayal of heroine, Eliza Doolittle, in the Frederick Loewe (Music) and Alan Jay Lerner (Book & Lyrics) musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s classic comedy, Pygmalion. By way of full disclosure, I am proud to be a member of America’s oldest theater club, The Lambs, and it was there in 1950’s New York that members Lerner & Loewe began development of this legendary musical that would break all existing box office records of the day.
The familiar plot is the Cinderella-like tale of a poor girl who makes her way in the world by selling flowers on the streets of London but later moves on to a life of wealth and glamour. Her journey begins on a rainy evening as the upper classes are departing the opera house. (The London fog is beautifully captured by lighting designer, Steven Wong). Just outside, there is a chance meeting on the street as Professor of Phonetics, Henry Higgins (Michael R. Martin), exits the building and overhears the distinctive Cockney dialect of Eliza (Miss Preisler) trying to sell her flowers to passersby.
Higgins, in fascination, begins making notes on her speech peculiarities, infuriating the indignant Eliza. Overhearing this, coincidentally, is Colonel Pickering (an aristocratic performance from Jim King), a fellow linguist who specializes in Indian dialects. The gents quickly become friends, and Pickering takes up residence in Higgins’s lovely townhouse (One of the many elegant, charming, and easy-to-move set designs from Deanie Harmon Boy.) With dreams of one day owning her own flower shop, Eliza soon comes calling in search of speech lessons in hopes of learning “proper” English. When Higgins boasts that he could teach this girl to speak so beautifully he could pass her off in society as a duchess, Pickering quickly challenges him with a wager, and so the fun begins.
But enough about plot details and on to the acting talent, comic skill, musical excellence, choreographic mastery and overall artistry demonstrated by cast & crew under Cafeo’s fine leadership. Of course, the familiar and beautiful songs sustain what could be an overlong theater experience for a show ending just after 11 p.m. The very articulate Mr. Martin gives us a thoroughly believable professor of phonetics, and his vocal skill is best displayed in Act One with songs like “I’m an Ordinary Man,” and a “Why Can’t the English?” that is beautifully supported by the talented ensemble. (Music Director, Ana Guirola Ladd, Vocal Coach, Layne Roberts).
With her wonderfully trained voice, the award-winning Miss Preisler is sensational with a dreamy, “Wouldn’t it be Loverly,” a fierce “Just You Wait,” and a triumphant, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” that has her performing with the grace of a swan and the voice of an angel.
Austin Colburn plays Eliza’s eager young suitor, Freddy, and brings a resounding voice to the song, “On the Street Where You Live.” Travis Bryant brings uproarious fun to the role of Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle, bringing the house down when he joins the ensemble chorus for the cheerful tunes, “With a Little Bit of Luck,” and “I’m Getting married in the Morning.”
There is more comic fun from Carolyn Wong as Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins. Carolyn and Stage Right co-producer, Steven Wong, her husband, are to be commended for so successfully handling the synchronized sound designs for a production featuring recorded orchestrations that could have been problematic but, happily, are not.
Adding to the glow of this absolute gem is the imaginative choreography from designer, Dinah Mahlman, so beautifully executed by the talented cast of dancers and household servants. But perhaps the ultimate touch comes from the exquisite costume designs of Debbie Preisler. They are nothing short of stunning. If you don’t believe me, just check out the delightful Act 1, Scene 5 at the Ascot Racetrack. Didn’t I promise you that we were, “off to the races?”