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The Lincoln Center Theater Production of “My Fair Lady” at Segerstrom Center for the Arts blossoms as “lovely” as the elegant flowers it pedals. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe wrote the book and the score, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s famous play and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture “Pygmalion”.
The story follows Shereen Ahmed (“The Sound of Music; “Shrek”) as impoverished flower girl Eliza Doolittle being ridiculed by upperclassmen of higher social and economic stature. Laird Mackintosh (“The Phantom of the Opera”; “Mary Poppins” as linguistics Professor Henry Higgins conducts a social experiment with fellow highly educated Kevin Pariseau (“Legally Blonde”; “Chicago”) as Colonel Pickering founding the project. In six months time, the two “gentlemen” shape unrefined Eliza to speak, dress, and act like a duchess to the gleeful delight of their own ego.
They gallantly flaunt their prize unbeknownst to the wealthy guests of extravagant social gatherings and to the sorrowful tune of their subject’s objectification. While Eliza’s personal goal for a new life by improving appearance and linguistics skills, the constant belittling of her sex and upbringing displays the relentless narcissistic personality of Higgins and his less than noble charity work. This bickering accumulates with Higgins realizing his own setbacks but never admitting them. Story ends from here. As a young patron unfamiliar and holding no nostalgia for the class act of “My Fair Lady”, the story’s unsatisfying conclusion left me baffled. I later learned apparently I am not the only one with this passionate sentiment.
The supporting cast bring parallels and further context to the lives surrounding that of Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins. Adam Grupper (“Wicked”; “The Addams Family”) as Alfred P. Doolittle plays Eliza’s father with class parameters and values not so different from that of Higgins despite appearances. Leslie Alexander (“Mamma Mia!”; “The Boy From Oz”) as Mrs. Higgins takes on a nurturing role as a spiritual moral compass. Sam Simahk (“The King and I”; “Sweeney Todd”) as Freddy Eynsford-Hill is presented as a handsome suitor who shares an unrelenting admiration for Eliza in comparison to Higgins’ misogynistic behavior.
Despite the musical’s longevity and recognition in the theater community, I surprised myself disliking the story’s ending to a point where I find the entirety of the production almost irredeemable if it were not for the professional quality of the show’s exemplary performers, eye-popping set design, and commentary on class distinctions. The character of Higgins is not that of a charismatic jerk but more of a snotty prick you want to punch in the face… played brilliantly by Laird Mackintosh. Shereen Ahmed carries a range of accents and character changes that is perfectly balanced.
You’ll want to root for Shereen Ahmed and boot Laird Mackintosh, respectfully. The vibrant and diverse cast handles the complexity of the characters and story with meticulous ease. The next time I view “My Fair Lady”, will have less focus on whatever connection there is between Eliza and Higgins as that relationship fell apart on me. Perhaps part of the underlying message sees classes and titles are not always as they claim and will continue the stakes with no end in sight. “My Fair Lady” is a blooming high-caliber revival sure to water the dry ears of a musical audience.
My Fair Lady is now playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts until January 23, 2022.
My Fair Lady Update
We regret to report that the January 14, 2022 7:30 PM, January 15, 2022 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM and the January 16 1:00 PM and 6:30 PM performances of My Fair Lady are postponed due to positive COVID cases within the company. We apologize for the disappointment and inconvenience this scheduling change has caused ticket holders. Please hold onto your tickets while we work to reschedule the performance.