The problem with producing My Fair Lady is that (a) most audience members harbor fond memories of the 1964 film starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn; (b) most of those same theatergoers have already seen umpteen different stage versions that pale in comparison to their memories of the venerated film; and (c) audiences' affection for the eminently hummable score nearly always outweighs interest in the many scenes of spoken dialogue.
It comes as little surprise, then, that the Country Dinner Playhouse's satisfactory production of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe work is a mixture of time-honored tradition and freshly minted invention. But the elements that have been borrowed from the movie--such as Cecil Beaton's elegant costumes for Eliza and the upper-crust set, as well as the delivery of nearly every guttural, Cockney-accented remark--only evoke our memories of a cinematic classic that has rarely, if ever, met its theatrical equal. And while director Bill McHale's approach is occasionally innovative, some of his actors' choices fight the play's powerful dramatic undercurrents.
Take, for instance, Marcus Waterman's portrait of Henry Higgins, the British phonetician who makes a spurious wager that within six short weeks, he can transform a lowly flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Gina Schuh-Turner), into a graceful duchess. An affable and able performer, Waterman depicts Henry as a gregarious sort whose attitude toward the lower classes isn't one of contemptible disgrace so much as bemused indifference. Stamping about and bellowing his lines with near-Churchillian aplomb, Waterman easily finds Henry's practical and expedient side. In his efforts to show us a likable version of the "confirmed old bachelor," however, Waterman fails to convey the self-satisfied arrogance that will eventually prompt Eliza to give Henry a dose of his own social-experiment medicine. And without any mutual faults to correct (and ultimately accept), Eliza and Henry never go through enough of a crisis to sustain our interest.
Schuh-Turner's Eliza often brings to mind Hepburn's beguiling portrayal (she bears an uncanny resemblance to the late English actress), especially near the end of Act One, when she enters clad in a lovely evening gown and bejeweled tiara. But like Waterman, Schuh-Turner seems intent on revealing only Eliza's stronger qualities and not her vulnerable aspects. When she sings "Just You Wait," an ominous tune about Eliza's determination to make something of herself with Henry's help or in spite of it, Schuh-Turner delivers the number with such force and power that you wonder why she even needs Henry's tutelage in the first place. Where is Eliza's tender yearning (and perceived inability) to rise above her station in life, to secure the kind of romance and happiness that has hitherto existed only in her dreams? Unfortunately, those qualities remain mostly hidden beneath Schuh-Turner's graceful and steady exterior.
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Ultimately, there's not much suspense or intrigue in this mildly entertaining production, only a desire to perk up now and then when music director Wendell Vaughn strikes up a familiar song, such as "On the Street Where You Live," nicely rendered by Randy St. Pierre. Or when choreographer (and lead dancer) David deBenedet and the agile chorus perform one of their pleasing dance routines. (They're particularly delightful during "Get Me to the Church on Time.")
As Henry's sidekick, Colonel Pickering, stalwart character actor Bill Berry earns good-natured laughter, and the rubber-faced, harrumphing Charles Hudson elicits an occasional guffaw as Eliza's ne'er-do-well father, Alfred P. Doolittle. And as Henry's mother, Patricia Mansfield summons an appropriate mixture of matronly concern and understated scorn. But for all the hugging and mugging that permeate this three-hour production, you get the feeling that neither action has resulted in putting a fresh face on Lerner and Loewe's heartwarming original.
My Fair Lady, through June 20 at the Country Dinner Playhouse, 6875 South Clinton Street, Englewood, 303-799-1410.