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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