My Fair Lady at the Lyric: a musical of epic proportions

My Fair Lady at the Lyric: a musical of epic proportions
Lisa O'Hare, Richard-E. Grant. Photo:Todd Rosenberg Lyric Opera of Chicago My Fair Lady Dress Rehearsal © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

For the past five years the Lyric Opera has been closing out its spring season on a high note by presenting a series of blockbuster musicals including “The Sound of Music,” “The King and I,” “Oklahoma,” and “Carousel.”

The popular musical series has become a hot ticket, seemingly getting hotter each season with near sellout crowds filling the 3000+ seat Civic Opera House throughout its 4-week run.

This year is no exception with the Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics) and Frederick Loewe’s (music) 1956 musical “My Fair Lady,” that many believe is an almost perfect musical.

Step into the exquisite Civic Opera House and you know you are in for something special. From the large bronze doors that open to the grand foyer to the gilt cornices, the Austrian crystal chandeliers, the elaborately stenciled ceilings, the space captivates.  

The thrill of listening to the show’s overture filled with the magnificent score conducted by David Chase expertly leading the 37-piece orchestra is just the beginning.

The production of Robert Carsen’s critically acclaimed “My Fair Lady” from Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris directed by Olivier Fredj plays out in grand scale on the Lyric Stage–by far the largest stage in downtown Chicago.

With new-to-Chicago sets and costumes, an ensemble of 56, not including the dance corps or the 37-piece orchestra, “My Fair Lady” is an impressive grand scale production fit for its surroundings.

4/27/17 3:30:13 PM -- Lyric Opera of Chicago My Fair Lady Dress Rehearsal © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

My Fair Lady Dress Rehearsal. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Then there’s Anthony Powell’s costumes–nearly 300 of them–one more spectacular than the next.

The story, that almost everyone already knows, of smug phonetics professor Henry Higgins taking on a bet to transform a Cockney flower girl, Eliza, into a grand lady, plays out faithful to the original script–why mess with perfection?

However, if one wants to get picky–which is the job of a critic–yes, the chemistry between the leads, Higgins and Eliza is lacking, and yes, the show is politically incorrect.

Professor Higgins verbal abuse of Eliza would not be accepted in today’s society. At one time calling a woman a “squashed cabbage,” “baggage” or “deliciously low” to her face  may have  been funny.

Not any more.

But remove the verbal abuse, insults and male superiority and you no longer have the same story.

“My Fair Lady” is a show whose roots extend back to 1913 when George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion debuted. It officially became “My Fair Lady,” the musical, back in 1956.

This is history. To change it would be to alter the past.

One could also argue that not all the costumes match the early 1900 period that the show depicts. For me, this does not detract from the show anymore than the modern day costumes that are substituted for period costumes in many current Shakespearean productions.

The cast includes Richard E. Grant as the spoiled, self-absorbed, smug Professor Higgins opposite him is Lisa   O’Hare–one of Britain’s most popular musical-theater leading ladies–who makes a captivating Eliza. Nicholas Le Prevost, fills the bill as a believable Colonel Pickering.

Donald Maxwell makes a lively, likable, larger-than-life Alfred Doolittle. Veteran Chicago actress Cindy Gold is delightful as Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, while  Tony-nominated Bryce Pinkham as Freddy, a relatively small part, nearly steals the show with his beautiful tenor pipes and captivating charm.

4/24/17 3:25:46 PM -- USA Lyric Opera Chicago My Fair Lady Piano Run Through © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

Bryce Pinkham as Freddy on the Street Where You Live © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

“Just You Wait” but not too long—if you want to see this “My Fair Lady” running at the Civic Opera House through May 21, 2017.

  • Rating: ★★★
  • When: Now through May 21st
  • Where: Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker
  • Tickets:  $22-$199, by phone at 312 827 5600 or online
  • Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes with one intermission

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