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Thanks to the combined genius of director David Bennett, assistant director Casey Kessler, choreographer Casey Nicholaw, and musical director/conductor McCrae Hardy, the North Carolina Theatre's irrepressibly high-spirited presentation of My Fair Lady is a briskly paced, fresh, and very, very funny new look at Lerner and Loewe's 1956 masterpiece. This vintage Broadway musical, as brilliantly re-imagined by Bennett, Kessler, and Nicholaw, is a midwinter's nights dream chockfull of crisp comic characterizations and vivacious vocals.
McCrae Hardy and orchestra make the justly famous My Fair Lady score gleam; and the show's handsome indoor/outdoor set and gloriously detailed period costumes, originally designed and built for California's Fullerton Civic Light Opera, vividly recreate the ambience of foggy old London, circa 1912.
Laudable contributions by lighting designer Craig Stelzenmuller, costumer/wardrobe supervisor Denise Schumaker, sound designer Jonathan Parke, dialect coach Chris Morris, and props master Bob Uzabel also help make My Fair Lady a must-see musical for Triangle theatergoers.
Broadway and Off-Broadway veteran David Staller is a delight as fidgety, persnickety confirmed bachelor Professor Henry Higgins, an internationally known professor of phonetics. Calm to the point of smugness on the outside, Higgins is in reality a bundle of nerves beneath his rumpled exterior. Just watch how quickly Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle (rising Broadway star Elena Shaddow) learns how to push all his hot buttons — and send him flapping around the stage in a tantrum more suited to a two year old than a distinguished man of science.
In his very flappability, David Staller makes the unflappable Professor Higgins a much more sympathetic figure. With her soaring vocals and fine flair for comedy, Elena Shaddow makes her Eliza Doolittle truly incandescent, an Eliza to cherish.
Sean G. Griffin is terrific as Higgins' stuffy fellow linguist, Colonel Pickering; and Robert Lydiard is a scene-stealer as Eliza's drunken father Alfred Doolittle, a natural philosopher whom Higgins "ruins" by recommending him to an eccentric American millionaire who not only enriches Doolittle but forces him to, horrors, marry his common-law second wife and become respectable.
James Donegan is dashing as Eliza's impecunious but hopelessly devoted upper-crust suitor, boyish Freddy Eynsford-Hill; and Viki Boyle is a veritable rock of rectitude as Higgins' housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. But Donna Wandrey is an absolute revelation as Higgins' increasingly exasperated mother, Mrs. Higgins, who openly disapproves of the callous and condescending way that her son treats Eliza. Wandrey takes one of the show's cameo roles and, with extraordinary warmth and wit, transforms Mrs. Higgins into a truly unforgettable character and helps make My Fair Lady the best home-grown musical so far this season.
Second Opinion: Raleigh, NC News & Observer correspondent Roy C. Dicks' Feb. 3rd review: http://www.triangle.com/calendar/theaterreview/story/977713p-6953891c.html.
The North Carolina Theatre presents My Fair Lady Thursday-Friday, Feb. 5-6, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 7, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 8, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $20-$60. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950 (or Ticketmaster*). North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/showsandtickets.html#myfairlady [inactive 9/04] . Internet Broadway Database (1956 Broadway Debut): http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=2407. Internet Movie Database (1964 Film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058385/.
*If a representative of Ticketmaster will contact us, we will consider including the company's phone number and links in these listings once again....