When I heard that director Bartlett Sher was bringing his musical hit-making formula to Lincoln Center Theater for a production of My Fair Lady, I knew I wanted to be there. My Fair Lady was one of my favorite musical from my youth when I was first learning about the musical theater oeuvre. I also liked it because the lead performer patter songs better fit my musical skills or lack thereof. It took me a while but my discount ticket mill finally came through.
When I sat down no fewer than eight slips of paper fell from the program causing me to groan. Luckily it was not the headliners replaced but a series of swing and ensemble performers that caused the avalanche as one replaced another. The beauty of the professional New York Broadway talent depth ensured a smooth and enjoyable production even as show tracks are swapped. I had not seen Harry Hadden-Paton (Professor Henry Higgins) but was very familiar with Laura Benanti (Eliza Doolittle), Danny Burstein (Alfred P. Doolittle), and Rosemary Harris (Mrs. Higgins) all of whom I have seen in many productions. They and the entire cast were exceptional.
Mr. Sher’s modus operandi is to create a smooth, sharp, modern but deferential production that defines a classic production. My Fair Lady is no different. It was spectacular and thrilling. But it must also be acknowledged that this now sixty year old work is out of step with contemporary thought and the musical theatre art form has moved on during those decades. While it is a museum piece it is a glorious exhibit with memorable songs.
And that problematic ending that seems to confirm the woman’s acquiescence to male dominance? Mr. Sher took a slightly new tack without changing the text, but had limited success.