Reviewed by Judy Richter
The 1956 Broadway hit musical is based on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" and starred Rex Harrison as an English professor of phonetics and Julie Andrews as the Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from him in order to become a lady.
Broadway By the Bay's production features Scott Solomon as the professor, Henry Higgins, and Samantha Williams as the flower girl, Eliza Doolittle. The differing success of their performances reflects the overall quality of this production, directed by Ken Savage.
Williams has both the vocal and acting prowess to undertake the challenges of transforming from a hardscrabble but proud flower seller to an elegant, well-spoken woman. With her refined vocal technique, she delivers fine renditions of such songs as "Wouldn't It be Loverly?" "The Rain in Spain" and "I Could Have Danced All Night."
Solomon got off to a shaky start opening night with his "Why Can't the English?" and never quite commanded the stage as the domineering, inconsiderate Higgins.
Supporting characters come off better, especially Praveen Ramesh as Colonel Pickering, Higgins' gentlemanly colleague; Kristina Hudelson as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins' often exasperated housekeeper; and Karen DeHart at Mrs. Higgins, Henry's mother, who bewails his lack of manners. The vocal standout among supporting characters is Sergey Khalikulov as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, who's charmed by Eliza. His "On the Street Where You Live" is a show-stopper.
Gary Stanford Jr. plays Eliza's drunken, opportunistic father, Alfred P. Doolittle, but he's too blustery, especially in "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time." He's a good dancer, though.
Musical direction is by Jesse Sanchez, whose 11-member orchestra seems under-rehearsed and sometimes tinny in Jon Hayward's sound design. The workmanlike choreography is by Camille Edralin with waltz choreography by Taylor Kinney.
Valerie Emmi's 1912 costumes reflect the times well, especially the elegant dresses for the society women.
The set by Annie Dauber (not always well lit by Andrew Kaufman) is intended to be a "crystal palace which doubles as a rigid glass cage," according to director Savage's notes. "The glass ceiling of this musical bars women and minorities from fully becoming equally respected members of British society," he says.
Hence it seems appropriate that Eliza, traditionally played by white women, is played by Williams, a black woman.
Running nearly three hours, opening night seemed slow with a low energy level. Still, the memorable music and plot show why "My Fair Lady" has endured over the years.
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