Covedale Gloriously Revives Musical Favorite My Fair Lady

Review by Doug Iden of My Fair Lady: Covedale Theatre

“I have often walked down this street before” and the journey has always been glorious as My Fair Lady opened at the Covedale Theater. Based upon George Bernard Shaw’s social satire Pygmalion, My Fair Lady is considered by many (myself included) to be one of the greatest musicals every written. The story shows Professor Henry Higgins’ attempt to transform a cockney flower girl (Eliza Doolittle) into a refined, high society lady by changing her dialect and her manner of speech. During the process, both Higgins and Doolittle are transformed in ways that neither could imagine.

Linguist Higgins (Brent Alan Burington), a product of the British caste system, is an arrogant, self-absorbed bachelor who is wedded to his work and views Eliza only as a challenge and not as a person. Eliza (Sarah Viola) is initially awed by the opulence and privileges of the upper class but, gradually, finds her voice and her own inner strength and eventually stands up to Higgins’ bullying tactics.

This is as perfectly integrated musical with Alan Jay Lerner’s clever and insightful lyrics propelling the story accompanied by Frederick Loewe’s melodic score. The play starts with the song “Why Can’t the English” in which Higgins decries the various English dialects which keep people in their societal niches. All of Higgins’ songs are patter songs which were originally “sung” by non-singer Rex Harrison. We hear the thoughts of the primary characters through song soliloquies including “I’m an Ordinary Man”, “Just You Wait” and “Hymn to Him”. This is one of the best scores ever written for a musical.

Burington portrays Higgins as a slightly more aggressive and boisterous character than we are used to seeing and it works well because Viola’s Eliza is also more assertive, so the battle of wills takes on a delicious fervor. Viola is excellent as Eliza with an extraordinary voice singing “I Could Have Danced All Night”, one of the big hits of the show, and “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” among others. Another highlight is local veteran Matt Dentino portraying Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s hedonistic father. Dentino steals every scene in which he appears with over the top renditions of the extraordinarily clever “With a Little Bit of Luck” and the ironically rueful “I’m Getting Married in the Morning”. Dave Wilson plays a besotted and innocently naïve Freddy Eynsford-Hill who slavers in his devotion to Eliza by singing the classic “On the Street Where You Live” in a pleasant, tenor voice. Gregory Bossler plays Higgins’ friend Colonel Pickering who functions both as a co-conspirator with Higgins and an ameliorating counterpart for Eliza. The large ensemble cast, who variously play cockney laborers and upper class snobs, is universally good with a few playing supporting characters such as Brandon Bentley (Zoltan Karpathy) and Mary Puetz (Mrs. Higgins). All are good singers.

Maggie Perrino has choreographed simple but alternately energetic and elegant dance routines ranging from the cockney workers to the sumptuous Embassy waltz number.

The set is detailed, functional and effective. Three set pieces (designed by Brett Bowling) have faces which, when turned by one-third, represent Higgins’ study, a street scene and some other interiors. There is a lot of detail in Higgin’s study with book-lined walls, a staircase, a second floor and a workspace including elocution and recording equipment, a bust of Shakespeare and several medical charts.

Caren Young must have busted the budget with an array of costumes including working clothes, upper class suits and dresses, formal dance apparel and several gorgeous gowns worn by Eliza. Due to the large cast, there are a lot of costumes.

Tim Perrino (the Covedale’s Artistic Director) directs his self-proclaimed favorite musical with fast moving abandon, drawing good performances from the principal leads. My only quibble is that the horn section of the band may need more practice.

On a personal note, My Fair Lady was the first professional musical I ever saw and, at a New Year’s Eve matinee at the Shubert Theater in Chicago, I fell in love with musicals in general and My Fair Lady in particular.

So, if you want to see a good production of a marvelous musical, Dance all Night on the Street Where the Covedale Lives continuing through May 21. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

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