You can’t do justice to a production of My Fair Lady, the Broadway classic that doesn’t have a dud song in its entire musical score, without a full orchestra, right?
Wrong. Cygnet Theatre’s adventurous staging of the venerable Lerner & Loewe show employs a mere six musicians, but they’re just the ticket for this intimate and wholly satisfying My Fair Lady. The lady is some kind of terrific, too. Allison Spratt Pearce’s Eliza Doolittle is saucy, sympathetic and courageous whenever the character of the Cockney flower girl needs to be, and Spratt Pearce’s singing is warm and expressive. Of course, a stellar Eliza requires an equally stellar Henry Higgins, and Cygnet’s production has that too. Artistic Director Sean Murray not only directs this My Fair Lady but co-stars as the self-important scientist of speech who – at least initially – takes Eliza on as a student to win a bet. Murray’s Higgins boasts the expected arrogance and ego, but also flashes vulnerability, rare for portrayals of the misogynistic professor.
British-born local theater fixture Ron Choularton, to no one’s surprise, has a ball as Alfie Doolittle, and so should audiences when time comes for “With a Little Bit o’ Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” The outstanding ensemble cast also features Tom Stephenson as Col. Pickering and Linda Libby in multiple roles, Higgins’ waxing-wise mother among them. Charles Evans, Jr. looks the part of Eliza’s dashing suitor, Freddy, but the “On the Street Where You Live” he sings is diminished by a too-jaunty arrangement.
My Fair Lady is a big, stagy Broadway show that shifts locales from the streets of London to Higgins’ impeccable Wimpole Street house to the grand racetrack at Ascot. An inventive Cygnet production team including set designer Andrew Hull, lighting designer Chris Rynne and sound designer Matt Lescault-Wood magically utilizes this comparatively small space to best effect.
My Fair Lady is so romantic and so much damned fun that almost any professional production of it is wallet-worthy. But Cygnet Theatre’s My Fair Lady, which takes big risks in little ways that you may or may not perceive, is a must-see.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat