Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Theatre By The Bay's production of My Fair Lady at Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Theatre By The Bay's production of My Fair Lady at the Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

My Fair Lady
Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion
Choreographer & Director: Ovi Vargas
Costumer: Chery Manniello
Musical Director: Alan Baboff
Theatre By The Bay
Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center
13-00 209th Street
Bayside, New York 11360
Reviewed 11/12/16

My Fair Lady, the musical, was adapted from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (set in 1912), which premiered in German at the Hofburg Theatre in Vienna on October 16, 1913 and at the German-language Irving Place Theatre in New York City on March 24, 1914. Pygmalion opened in London on April 11, 1914 at Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree's His Majesty's Theatre where it ran for 118 performances. That production featured all the characters we are introduced to in the musical including Professor Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering, Eliza Doolittle, Alfred P. Doolittle, Mrs. Pearce, Mrs. Higgins, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, and Mrs. Eynford-Hill. Transformed into a musical, My Fair Lady opened on Broadway on March 15, 1956 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. The musical's script used several scenes that Shaw had written especially for the 1938 film version of Pygmalion, including the Embassy Ball sequence. It transferred to the Broadhurst Theatre, and then The Broadway Theatre, where it closed on September 29, 1962 after 2,717 performances, a record at the time. The original Broadway production won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Rex Harrison), Best Direction of a Musical (Moss Hart), Best Scenic Design (Oliver Smith), Best Costume Design (Cecil Beaton), and Best Conductor & Musical Director (Franz Allers).

The first Broadway revival opened at the St. James Theatre on March 25, 1976 where it ran through December 5, 1976 before transferring to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, closing on February 20, 1977 after a total of 7 previews and 377 performances. George Rose won a Tony Award for his performance as Alfred P. Doolittle. Another Broadway revival opened at the Uris Theatre on August 18, 1981, closing on November 29, 1981 after 4 previews and 120 performances. A new revival opened at the Virginia Theatre on December 9, 1993, closing on May 1, 1994 after 16 previews and 165 performances. In 2007, the New York Philharmonic performed a full-costume concert presentation of the musical. The concert had a four-day engagement lasting from March 7-10 at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall starring Kelsey Grammer as Professor Henry Higgins and Kelli O'Hara as Eliza Doolittle.

If you are over a certain age and have participated in the American cultural experience over the past five or six decades, you will know all the songs featured in this musical such as Why Can't The English, Wouldn't It Be Loverly, With A Little Bit Of Luck, I'm An Ordinary Man, Just You Wait, The Rain In Spain, I Could Have Danced All Night, Ascot Gavotte, On The Street Where You Live, You Did It, Show Me, Get Me To The Church On Time, A Hymn To Him, Without You, and I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face. I am most certain every audience member knows the story of how Phonetics Professor Henry Higgins accepted a challenge that he couldn't successfully tutor Eliza Doolittle, a Covent Garden flower peddler, to speak English properly in order to pass her off as a Lady at the annual Embassy Ball within a six-month period. Eliza starts out hoping to speak more gentile-like so she can get a job in a flower shop but as time passes, she becomes concerned about her future and wonders what will become of her. Prof. Higgins' "project" starts to speak her mind and express opinions.  

My Fair Lady is one of the most popular musicals ever written. What you need to know is whether Theatre By The Bay's production of that show is worth seeing. To that question, I answer unequivocally yes and strongly encourage you to attend. Frank Josephs gives his all to the part of Prof. Henry Higgins and fully succeeds in presenting the complexities of that character. His performance is a crowning achievement people will remember for many years. Michele Linder does a fine job portraying Eliza Doolittle both as a lower-class flower girl and as a woman posing as a lady. If only it were true that the main difference between lower-class and upper-class people was their manner of speech. In any case, the willingness of Eliza to engage in "the new small talk" attracts the attention and romantic interests of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, implied to be a timid, faint-hearted gentleman whose family is eking out a living in genteel poverty (as indicated by his inability to hail a cab for his mother and sister and by the fact that Eliza says she'd need to find a way to financially support Freddy should she decide to marry him).

A shining star in this production is Sam Hunt, who plays Alfred P. Doolittle. He has the energy and talent to play Eliza's father with confidence and enthusiasm. He makes a major contribution to this production in every scene in which he appears, whether it is selling his daughter to Professor Higgins for five pounds, or complaining when an unexpected inheritance forces him to become a respectable member of the Middle Class. Mark Solkoff is perfectly sleazy as Zoltan Carpathy, the dreadful Hungarian phoneticist, who uses his expertise to help and then blackmail his students ("I help them deceive but I make them all pay through the nose!"). My only complaint is that Mr. Solkoff didn't have more lines to perform.

Three additional performances are worthy of note. The first is Ruthe McKeown's portrayal of Mrs. Pearce, the Housekeeper, as a strong woman who makes sure Eliza Doolittle is to be properly treated and that a plan will be in place to take care of her after the "tutoring sessions" end. John Canning succeeded in the role of Colonel Pickering, who inexplicably bet against Higgins' ability to transform Eliza. It appears he did so solely for amusement and because he was intrigued by the implications of such an endeavor. Finally, Lila Edelkind does a fine job as Mrs. Higgins. The remainder of the ethnically diverse supporting cast performed well but not anywhere near the level of professionalism and talent exhibited by the actors who played the main roles. My compliments to Chery Manniello for the costume choices on display during the Ensemble's presentation of the Gavotte at Ascot.

This production of My Fair Lady is absolutely delightful and wonderfully entertaining. This musical is a masterpiece of musical comedy with serious reflections on societal subcultures and the ever-changing gender dynamics that characterize the relationship between men and women. You have two more opportunities to see Theatre By The Bay's production of My Fair Lady on Sunday, November 20, 2016 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $22.00 for adults and $20.00 for seniors over 62 and children under 12. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.theatrebythebayny.com/ or call 718-428-6363. 

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