My Fair Lady
Music by Frederick Loewe, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
The 2018 Lincoln Center revival of My Fair Lady benefits greatly from its new brace of leads, with Tony winner Laura Benanti joining the cast as a sweet and strong Eliza Doolittle, and Danny Burstein taking the role of her hard-partying father, Alfie Doolittle, and the formidable Rosemary Harris in the cameo role of Higgin’s mother in Bartlett Sher’s lavish Tony-nominated revival of the perennially popular 1956 Broadway classic.
They join Harry Hadden-Paton (as Henry Higgins) and other members of the original revival cast who opened the show last spring.
When she’s the cockney-speaking Eliza in Act I, Benanti sings her numbers like “Just You Wait” in a sturdy chest tone. But as she transforms to the upper-class Eliza following “The Rain in Spain,” she rolls out her loverly upper register, beautifully showcased in “I Could Have Danced All Night.” The actress who appears regularly as First Lady Melania Trump on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” burnishes her reputation as a master of accents in this musical about the social importance of accents.
As he did with his sterling revivals of The King and I, South Pacific, and other shows, Sher leaves the classic script alone, but manages to find all sorts of charming, comic and telling moments to stage and put new spins on certain scenes. Perhaps the most dramatic change comes in the last moment of the show, when Eliza gives a tougher and more contemporary response to Higgins’ curtain line, “Where the devil are my slippers?,” than audiences may be used to. Without spoiling the surprise, let’s just say that Sher moved the show more in line with the source material, George Bernard Shaw’s politically-themed Pygmalion.
For all its beauty, this is a tougher, leaner My Fair Lady, less focused on the elegant costumes and ambivalent romance, and more focused on the question of how externals like accent and class often mask what’s truly important in the way people ought to regard and treat one another.
That said, Sher never loses sight of the fact that this is a musical. The high point of the show comes in Act II when Burstein brings the house down, leading the chorus in a high-kicking and uproarious tribute to British Musical Hall, “Get Me to the Church on Time.”
Master conductor Ted Sperling wields the baton over a majestic 29-piece orchestra throughout the show, putting a high polish on the original Robert Russell Bennett and Phil Lang orchestrations for the classic Lerner & Loewe score.
My Fair Lady continues its open-ended run at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center Theater in Manhattan.