Sunday, July 15, 2012

"My Fair Lady" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ Woo Hoo

Last night was the 51st and last Opening Night for San Francisco Playhouse at their Sutter Street addresss. Beginning with the 2012-2013 season in October the company is moving around the corner into their newly renovated and larger quarters in the Kensington Park Hotel, long-time home of the Post Street Theater.

So how better do you go out than with an absolute Five Star performance of Lerner and Loewe's classic "My Fair Lady?" They've stripped it down to two pianos, one on each side of the audience, and filled Nina Ball's unique set with actors who act and sing like they have been doing this show all their lives. Seeing as Eliza Dolittle is played by Monique Hafen, who can't be twenty-five years old (which means My Fair Lady opened on Broadway when she was minus thirty), clearly this cannot be so. Hafen and director Bill English give us a grittier Eliza, far more streetwise than Julie Andrews ever tried to be. They also give us Johnny Moreno as Henry Higgins. We expect Rex Harrison -- a proper (and middle aged) English gentleman, but Moreno gives us a more vibrant, angrier but equally clueless Higgins. This combination could be dangerous, but instead we are spellbound at the energy between the two leads. As an example, take Moreno's "I'm an Ordinary Man" and Hafen's "Just You Wait." It is both a surprise and a pleasure to see what the undertone of class anger can do to these two brilliant songs.

Add in Charles Dean as the swaggering (and staggering) Alfred P. Dolittle, Richard Frederick as Colonel Pickering and Karen Hirst as Mrs. Pearce/Mrs. Higgins, then sit back and listen to perhaps the most brilliant libretto and score ever created for musical theater, and you cannot help but come away feeling you have seen theater the way it is supposed to be seen.

It doesn't hurt that there isn't one word that isn't perfect in Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics ("Move yer bloomin' arse!" is what Eliza is shouting in the above shot), nor did Frederick Loewe ever write one out of place note. Those of us of a certain age who either saw the original Broadway production or have heard glowing first-hand accounts from those who did, must bow our heads and accept that a large Broadway house would bring magic of its own to My Fair Lady. But this reviewer must add that a 99-seat house, where you are no further than a dozen rows in front of the stage, instead of cloistered somewhere up in Balcony Three -- it's priceless.

We are sorry to gush. We know our readers are not used to reading such a rave from the Crusty Curmudgeon. We hope to be feeling better by next season.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ Woo Hoo!
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards "My Fair Lady" Five Stars with a Woo Hoo! This is as high as we can go without tumbling off the praise precipice onto an earth that is once again flat and filled with Disney Musicals. Those of you who follow SFTB already know we might have a tendency to award Three or even Four stars to your preschooler's Farsi production of "My Fair Lady" or "West Side Story," but Five is a different ballgame.

Think of the Richter Scale -- Five Stars is Ten Megapissles stronger than Four, as Four is to Three. For further instructions, please refer to the Ratings Guide on the right side of this page.

And as for San Francisco Playhouse, who else can follow "A Behanding in Seattle" with "My Fair Lady" and move on to "Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson?" Note from Colonel Pickering to Bill English and Susi Damilano: "You did it."

Now all you have to do is keep it up.

"My Fair Lady"
San Francisco Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through September 29


mary ann said...

Great review and we also LOVED this production.

spacedogs said...

it was poor, as brits we were shocked at how bad the UK accents were mainly from the lead who was playing Eliza, who was also wearing pants/ trousers in several of the scenes! sets were great, costumes were poor, actor who played Colonel Pickering was the best and at least sounded English. We left after first half as didn't want the show to ruin our memories, and how camp was the guy singing 'on the street where you live' - crazy!

DAK said...

So sorry to Spacedogs. The accents sounded great to me -- but crikey, I'm from L.A. Got to agree about Freddie - that was a bit hard to take, but Freddie never makes any sense in this show. Great song, though.