The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new season is one for the ages. Multiple productions are underway, including some never-before-seen works and a few classic favorites. One such favorite is the beloved Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady, which has been performed time and again since its 1956 Broadway premiere. OSF’s version, directed by Amanda Dehnert, brings a fresh and exciting new perspective on this classic work, with not only a unique take on the orchestration of the musical, but the entire production’s look and atmosphere as well.
My Fair Lady tells the story of Eliza Doolittle (Rachael Warren,) a cockney flower girl living in the impoverished Covent Garden area of early 20th century London. Eliza is brash and tough, well-suited to the streets of London, but she also longs for the finer things in life. Lo and behold, a certain Henry Higgins (Jonathan Haugen) – who happens to be an expert in linguistics – crosses her path. He and another phonetician, Colonel Pickering (David Kelly), make a bet: Higgins says he can transform Eliza into a perfect lady of society in 6 months and Pickering says he can’t. Their bet ensues with comical, devastating and romantic consequences…only the best stuff of theatre!
Dehnert’s production could be considered an unusual take on any classic musical. Instead of a traditional stage setup including an orchestra pit, actors waiting in the wings and lavish scene shifts, OSF’s My Fair Lady aims for simplicity and a focus on the acting and music. Performed in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, the audience is treated to an intimate experience, with actors hanging off the stage and occasionally weaving through the aisles. Costume changes take place on stage and with the exception of the three main leads, actors vary their roles throughout the production. But perhaps the most delightful aspect of My Fair Lady is the use of two grand pianos in lieu of a full orchestra, placed directly on the stage. The actors sing timeless songs such as “On the Street Where You Live,” “The Rain in Spain,” and “Wouldn’t it be Loverly?” accompanied only by the two pianists. The result is an honest and heartfelt expression of Eliza’s journey to understanding her identity and Henry Higgins’ true feelings and motives.
The acting and singing in My Fair Lady is superb. Warren and Haugen have a vital biting chemistry that moves the entire musical forward. Comic relief is often provided by Eliza’s inebriate father, Alfred, who is played perfectly by Anthony Heald. Heald has also acted in the acclaimed films The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon. Had I not read this in the program, I never would have guessed; his comedic talents are simply transcendent.
OSF’s My Fair Lady is a joy to behold and a theater-goer’s paradise. The new energy poured into this production will not only have you swaying to beautiful music that will inevitably be stuck in your head, it also leaves you feeling uplifted and satisfied. My Fair Lady is already a darn good musical to boot, but OSF’s Midas Touch has made it more “loverly” than ever before.
More information and tickets to My Fair Lady can be found at www.osfashland.org. Theatre-goers aged 19-35, keep your eyes peeled for the 19-35 Program, in which tickets for select showings of plays can be had for just $25.