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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

My Fair Lady

The revival of My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center is much like other Bartlett Sher revivals of musical theater chestnuts at Lincoln Center: it is colorful (if, this time around, more dimly lit); it is respectful to the text without insisting on remaining totally rooted to the past; and it is, for the most part, lovely, enjoyable, and satisfying.

Joan Marcus
A few things about it that stay with me and that I figure I'd mention:

1) Much handwringing over (a) this particular musical being revived at this particular time and (b) the subtle changes made to its finale took place during the preview period, but I think both were ultimately for naught. You either like My Fair Lady or you don't. You can either overlook its sexist implications enough to enjoy the piece, or you can't. If you can, and you enjoy the musical, my guess is that you'll enjoy this production of it.

Further, you'll either appreciate the subtle nods the production makes to cultural shifts that took place during the Edwardian era (the tweak made to the conclusion; the brief appearances of marching suffragettes or crossdressing choristers), or you won't. But nothing the production does makes much of a difference, ultimately: Higgins is still a pompous twit and pretty much everyone knows it; Eliza is still smart and driven and pretty much everyone knows that, too. They'll end up together or not, but then, that was always the case. 

2) The idea to have a younger Higgins and an older Pickering was, at least as I see it, a far more ingenious and daring move, since it shifts the power dynamic so totally. Alan Corduner's Pickering is a devoted scholar who is kindly, paternal, and patient with both Higgins and Eliza. Harry Hadden-Paton's Higgins is by equal measures arrogant, entitled, and deeply insecure about his own intelligence, while still managing to remain far more appealing than he deserves. I've known plenty of both types of academic dudes, and the pairing here makes absolutely perfect sense to me--as does Eliza's desire to knock Higgins down a few pegs as often as possible, even as she benefits from him. He deserves it; she needs to do it to retain her sanity while achieving the goals she's set for herself.

3) An added bonus: Hadden-Paton can sing, unlike Rex Harrison, who defined the role despite the fact that he not only couldn't, but was incredibly cowed by that fact. If, like me, you've listened--and even pattered along--to Harrison's "Why Can't the English?" thousands of times through your life without ever once realizing that the damn song actually has a melody, you're in for a real treat.

4) Discussion of this show usually gravitates so quickly and so overwhelmingly toward the gender aspects that it's easy to forget how very much the musical says about class distinctions and their discontents. Of course, gender and class are intertwined--in the world as in this musical--but still, I appreciated being reminded here that there's so much more at play than the basic "two old bromancy white dudes remake a young woman to their exacting standards, take all the credit, and eventually she falls for one of them" plotline everyone always fixates on.  

5) Norbert Leo Butz long ago won my heart, so it's not like he had to work terribly hard here, but damn if he's not typically awesome in this. Also, kudos to the costume department for the truly bizarre aviator cap he shows up in early in act I, which to me was kind of worth the price of admission.   


4 comments:

TT n Sheldy said...

REX REED??????????????????

Elizabeth Wollman said...

Corrected, and I’m appalled by the error (not least because Reed should be given little credit for anything, ever.). Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hangwringing.

billnyc555 said...

Love this review, thanks!! i enjoyed My Fair Lady when I saw it, very much, but I wondered if I should feel guilty in this day and age. I was painfully aware of all the hand wringing about the subject matter, so I wasn't certain I had a good take on things. Eliza, as you so beautifully said, is working on her own project: herself. I hadn't really solidified that thought for myself the way you have it written here. I just knew that I wanted to read your take on the proceedings, so thanks Professor!