By Larry Laneer
September 29, 2021
Things are looking better and better, theatergoers. OKC Broadway has returned to live performances. And they do so with a sure bet, the classic My Fair Lady by the masters Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music). Plus, the cast is thankfully unmasked, although the audience is not.
It’s not a risky show, but it’s a quality show. This is the touring version of the Lincoln Center Theater production that garnered much acclaim in 2018.
Bartlett Sher, a highly regarded director of musicals, directs the show. You may remember his Fiddler on the Roof that OKC Broadway presented here in 2019. So, it’s nice to see his homage to this staple of the repertory. With one or two exceptions, Sher stages the show with respect to the past.
The production stimulates the senses. Michael Yeargan’s set design fits into the Thelma Gaylord like it had been designed specifically for that theater. A moving, revolving centerpiece creates various rooms and levels of Henry Higgins’s flat in authentic detail. Catherine Zuber’s costumes have an understated, tasteful look. I’m no expert, but Eliza’s gown and red cape for the embassy ball may be appropriate for embassy balls today. The nifty shades of gray for “Ascot Gavotte” reflect the intentional colorlessness of the number.
The sound design by Marc Salzberg graces the production in both obvious and subtle ways. First, race horses pound across the turf from left to right behind the audience. Even more impressive is when Higgins plays a wax cylinder of Eliza’s voice and the sound seems to come from the exact point onstage where the wax-cylinder player stands.
A full-sounding pit orchestra of at least a dozen musicians accompanies the show. It includes string, woodwind, and brass sections.
Shereen Ahmed gives Eliza Doolittle backbone and a heart of gold. Ahmed gets the English accent down pat. In the first scene, a lot of her dialog comes off as unintelligible. (The same can be said of other cast members.) With a beautiful singing voice and strong acting skills, Ahmed gives a highly satisfying, sweet performance.
The role of Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza’s father, passes the test of time as one of the great parts in musical theater. A “philosophical genius of the first water,” Higgins calls him. And Adam Grupper as Alfred wrings every bit of comic subversion out of it. His “Get Me to the Church on Time” is one of the great numbers in musical theater. In this production, Sher introduces a chorus line of drag queens to “Church,” but what the heck. This is musical comedy, not real life.
Laird Mackintosh plays Henry Higgins with equal parts imperiousness and confused astonishment. Over drinks after the show, theatergoers can discuss whether to feel sorry for Mackintosh’s Higgins or think he got what he deserved.
Although it runs three hours, the production’s solid musical and acting performances, elaborate set, and sharp staging make it a nice return to live theater. Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park have led the way, so it’s good to see OKC Broadway return to the boards.
The management and staff of Civic Center Music Hall and OKC Broadway have done an extraordinary job bringing back live performance safely for audiences and artists. At the reviewed performance, all audience members wore masks as casually as they wore shoes. Good for us.
Before they began the choreographed curtain calls on opening night, the cast stood onstage and applauded the audience as we applauded them. It was brief, beautiful moment. Theatergoers and theater artists look forward to more time together from now on.
|My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner (book/lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music)
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, through October 3
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.