MSO's "My Fair Lady" is a loverly evening with a classic story
If all you want this weekend is a room somewhere far away from the cold night air, that room should without a doubt be Uihlein Hall, as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra presents the beloved musical, "My Fair Lady." But seeing this performance shouldn't merely be an escape from the nasty February snowstorms and cold. It really is a loverly night out on the town.
As you may have guessed from the fact that this is a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra presentation, "My Fair Lady" is a concert version of the Broadway musical countless fans know and love. Although the set and most scenes of dialogue are eliminated in this production, don't worry. Under the masterful direction of conductor Yaniv Dinur, the lush score and the exceptional vocals become even more apparent in this concert setting, almost as if you're hearing the gorgeous melodies for the first time.
Based on the George Bernard Shaw's masterpiece "Pygmalion," "My Fair Lady" is a tale as old as time: unrefined girl (Eliza Doolittle) meets polished man (Professor Henry Higgins), polished man makes cruel bet to turn unrefined girl into a lady, girl becomes lady, complications and a little romance ensue. Basically, it's Cinderella, but with show tunes. Really good show tunes.
If this plot sounds familiar to you, you aren't wrong. Everything from 1958's Academy Award winning "Gigi" to 1998's teen romance "She's All That" (a very big deal for me in my tween years) checks these plot boxes. I'm not complaining – it's a story formula that's universally appealing. After all, it's true what they say: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. But I would argue that no one tells this story of boy unconventionally meets girl quite as beautifully as Lerner and Loewe, the minds behind "My Fair Lady." And few companies play their elegant, romantic score as gracefully as our very own Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Of course, no matter how you are seeing a production of "My Fair Lady," its success and failure all lies on the shoulders of its Eliza Doolittle. Eliza must be a combination of pliable and self-assured, sympathetic and relatable, despite her ridiculous cockney accent (at least for the first half of the story). Keep in mind that this is the musical that first made Julie Andrews, the original Eliza onstage, a household name. And, of course, it's a role that further immortalized Audrey Hepburn as the screen legend she is today. Long story short: Talk about pressure for whoever plays this role.
Fortunately, this pressure is something Elena Shaddow effortlessly handles. She is a beautiful vocalist, a spirited performer and a true pleasure to watch. "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "Show Me" particularly stood out as gripping, absolutely ripping performances. Confession: "I Could Have Danced All Night" is one of my go-to shower songs (on a good morning, I can squeak out the concluding high notes) but Shaddow's effortless, dazzling belt puts my shampoo-filled rendition to shame. Hearing her near-perfect version truly did inspire me ... to retire my pathetic version.
Equally striking and swoon-worthy is Charlie Tingen's interpretation of besotted Freddie Enynsford-Hill, a dashing (and more age-appropriate) love interest for Eliza. His rendition of "On the Street Where You Live," to quote the beautiful song, "completely done me in." Let's just say if I was Eliza, I would have happily run out into that street and jumped into his arms.
In all honesty, I really couldn't find one flaw in the evening. Even Peter Scolari's Professor Henry Higgins, a character I personally have mixed feelings about (after all, he sings about his fears of letting a woman in his life for a good five minutes), managed to give an impressive performance that was arrogant without being unsympathetic. It was a pleasure to see a visible transformation in him during the show's final number, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face," as he finally accepts that he loves Eliza. ("I think he's got it! I think he's got it!")
Just like an experience at the Ascot Opening Day, "My Fair Lady" in concert 'twas a thrilling, absolutely chilling night at the theater. It's safe to say that I could have stayed all night and still have begged for more.
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