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‘My Fair Lady’ brings classic Broadway to the Detroit Opera House
“My Fair Lady” has made old new, or at least fresh, for Broadway.
The latest incarnation of Alan jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s Tony Award-winning 1956 musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” running through July 24 at the Detroit Opera House, is a glorious and unapologetic throwback. Created by New York Center’s Lincoln Theater in 2018, it recreates and celebrates the glamour and grandeur of the Great White Way’s great era, from the elaborate costumes to outsized performances and the kind of stage-filling scenery that’s seldom seen anymore and brings Edwardian London to three-dimensional life.
With its large cast and full orchestra, the current “My Fair Lady” revels in its timeless story — but also has a contemporary perspective in the wake of the #metoo movement, including a slight but crucial tweak at the end that puts Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl that Professor Henry Higgins turns from goose to swan, in the power seat and in control of her destiny.
It’s a welcome antidote and antithesis to the film and TV show adaptations and biopics, and to the pyrotechnic productions that dominate the stage world anymore. “My Fair Lady’s” heritage — including Great American Songbook standards such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” and “With a Little Bit of Luck” — gives the current version its muscle, while the touring cast’s performances ground the show with genuine emotional heft.
The production’s leads are nothing short of spectacular, led by Shereen Ahmed as Eliza. Ahmed makes a smooth transition from street merchant to Higgins’ pupil/lab rat, and her voice (both singing and speaking) and body language blend classical theater technique with just the right amount of contemporary attitude. She also has a solid chemistry with Laird Mackintosh as Higgins, although he plays the ambitious phonetician’s arrogance with so much exuberance that we don’t quite believe his contrition at the end, or that the character truly realizes how accustomed he’s become to everything about Eliza in his life.
Kevin Pariseau, a veteran of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Legally Blonde: The Musical” and more, plays a crisp Colonel Pickering, whipping lines back and forth with Mackintosh’s Higgins. And Martin Fisher takes a broad approach to Eliza’s father Alfred P. Doolittle, swaggering through “With a Little Bit of Luck” and leading the company through an over-the-top “Get Me to the Church on Time” — can-can line and all — that would make Busby Berkeley proud.
Michael Yeargan’s set design, meanwhile, does a fair amount of heavy lifting towards “My Fair Lady’s” success. The stage glides from London street to Ascot Racecourse to royal ballroom, while Higgins’ house is depicted on a rotating, detailed two-level construction that rivals “Les Miserable’s” barricade for visual impact.
“My Fair Lady” can’t help but show its age at some points, but that’s also part of the new production’s charm. The theater world will always embrace its artistic, aesthetic and technological advancements — and rightly so — but once in awhile it’s well worth being reminded of the base that made all that possible.
“My Fair Lady” runs through July 24 at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. $25 and up 313-961-3500 or broadwayindetroit.com.