My Fair Lady at the Ahmanson
by Tony Medley
Henry Higgins as Adolph
Hitler? That’s what you get in the current iteration of Lerner & Lowe’s
“My Fair Lady” currently playing in a Road Company at the Ahmanson
Theater at the Los Angeles Music Center. The brilliance of Rex
Harrison’s portrayal of Higgins was that he was constantly befuddled by
this new force in his life, the beautiful Eliza Doolittle (Lisa O’Hare).
His lines, which seem harsh when read, were comedic as uttered by
Harrison because of the way he played them. You always knew that he knew
that Eliza was changing his life and that he was losing control, but he
couldn’t come to grips with just how and why it was happening (“Well
after all, Pickering, I'm an ordinary man,
Who desires nothing more than an ordinary chance, to live exactly as he
likes, and do precisely what he wants... An average man am I, of no
eccentric whim, Who likes to live his life, free of strife, doing
whatever he thinks is best, for him, Well... just an ordinary man...
BUT, let a woman in your life and your serenity is through, she'll
redecorate your home, from the cellar to the dome, and then go on to the
enthralling fun of overhauling you!”).
But Christopher Cazenove
interprets Higgins as a cruel martinet without the comedy. There’s not
an ounce of humor or understanding in his portrayal. The result is a
play without a reason. There is no way on earth that Eliza would have an
iota of feelings for this truculent barbarian.
Cazenove completely misses
the points of the comedy of the story, that he is being controlled and
manipulated by this woman, even though he thinks he is the puppeteer
pulling the strings. It makes for an overly long, excruciating evening,
despite the wonderful music, lyrics and dancing.
Cazenove isn’t the only
weak point of this production. O’Hare is a talented comedienne. Her
conversation at the races far exceeds the humor of Audrey Hepburn in the
movie. She is wonderful as she controls and shocks the ladies with her
conversation. Unfortunately her singing voice is just not strong enough
for a role whose standard was set by the marvelous Julie Andrews. Her
songs are lackluster, although not nearly as weak as Cazenove’s
rendering of Higgins’ terrific songs (“A Hymn to Him,” “I'm An Ordinary
Man,” “You Did It”).
There are some high points,
however. Tim Jerome steals the show as Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s no-good
father. His two songs, “With a Little Bit of Luck,” and “Get Me to the
Church on Time” are show stoppers if you’ve ever seen one. The latter
brought down the house at my performance, and deservedly so.
Justin Bohon makes Freddy
Eynsford-Hill into someone you want to see more of, rather than just a
forgettable foil (“Marry Freddy,” sings Higgins. “What an infantile
idea. What a heartless, wicked, brainless thing to do. But she'll
regret, she'll regret it. It's doomed before they even take the vow! I
can see her now, Mrs. Freddy Eynsford-Hill in a wretched little flat
above a store. I can see her now, not a penny in the till, And a bill
collector beating at the door.”) That’s all Freddy has been in previous
incantations. But here Bohon makes him a happy, likeable, appealing
character. He might not have the voice of Vic Damone, who had the hit
record from the show (even though he wasn’t in the show) of "On the
Street Where You Live,", but Bohon’s voice is good enough. What sets him
apart is his acting. Given the choice between Bohon’s Freddy and
Cazenove’s Higgins, there’s no Eliza in the world who would pick Henry.
The other plus for this is
the appearance of the much talented but seldom-seen Marni Nixon as
Freddy’s mother. As many know, Marni was the voice of Audrey Hepburn in
the film as well as for Deborah Kerr in “The King and I” (1956) and
Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” (1962). In all three she was
magnificent and uncredited! She gives a rewarding performance here, even
though she doesn’t sing.
Which leads us to the
ending. For some reason Producer Cameron Mackintosh (“Cats,” “Les
Misérables,” and “The Phantom of the Opera”) has changed the ending to
something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Maybe he figured
that since there was no chemistry between Eliza and Higgins, there was
no reason to try to replicate the ending penned by Lerner and Shaw, so he chose
something that just got it over with, even though it leaves everyone in
the audience saying, huh?
April 14, 2008