The Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre (MSMT) production of “My Fair Lady” is more than fair.
The classic musical, through July 30, Dorothy Hess Baker Theater, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, is led by fine lead performances (Jarrod Yuskauskas as Professor Henry Higgins and Meredith Kate Doyle as Eliza Doolittle) and supporting performances (Zach Love as Colonel Pickering, Robert Fahringer as Alfred Doolittle and JoAnn Wilchek Basist as Mrs. Higgins), clever, detailed set (Scenic Designer Edward T. Morris, Lighting Designer Gertjan Houben), fabulous costumes (Costume Designer Hunter Kaczorowski), wonderful choreography (Choreographer Karen Dearborn), superb and insightful direction (Director Charles Richter) and that wonderful score (Music Director and Conductor Ed Bara, 13-piece orchestra, Sound Designer Phil Ingle, Dialect Designer Troy Dwyer) by Alan Jay Lerner (Book and Lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (Music).
“My Fair Lady” is the musical that none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera”) has said is the best of the 1950s-60s Broadway era.
The Broadway production (once the longest-running, 1956-’62, and receiving seven Tonys) starred Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza, with Harrison reprising his role for the 1964 movie (that received eight Oscars), which starred Audrey Hepburn as Eliza.
“My Fair Lady” is based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” Eliza, a Cockney flower girl, takes speech lessons from Professor Higgins, who has a bet with Pickering that he can transform her with patrons of the Ascot horse race and Embassy Ball none the wiser. Meanwhile, Eliza’s father, Alfred, is being dragged toward matrimonial bliss.
For this reviewer, the age difference (especially as represented by Harrison and Hepburn in the film) has often put things somewhat out of kilter, straining the credulity of such a seemingly awkward relationship. In the MSMT production, there’s less of an age difference in the casting of Yuskauskas and Doyle and so, again for this reviewer, the attraction between the two is more believable and realistic.
Another difference in the MSMT production and the well-known stage and movie versions is that Yuskauskas can really sing, which Rex Harrison humbly admitted was not his forte (he more or less spoke-sang the songs, also known as sprechgesang, or spoken singing, in German). This gives many of the songs more depth, humor and pathos (“Why Can’t The English,” “I’m An Ordinary Man,” “Hymn To Him,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” the latter especially rendered delicately by Yuskauskas with an emotional sensitivity that really wins us over to Higgins’ essential good nature).
Of course, the real difference in “My Fair Lady” is not so much age, as class and income. Under Richter’s direction, these aspects are brought to bear, not as a polemic but simply as a fact of life. Higgins is to the manor born, embodying a social stature that Eliza as to the mentor brought can never really achieve. Her makeover inside Higgins’ Wimpole Street house means she can’t go back to the Covent Garden street. Richter emphasizes that Eliza’s decision to choose a cozy, comfortable, afternoon tea-infused life with Higgins over a probable cold-water flat of dreamer Freddy Eynsford-Hill (excellent Mac Myles, who is super in his spotlight number, “On The Street Where You Live”). The turning point is Eliza’s “Show Me.” Words to live by, indeed.
Doyle is a revelation as Eliza. She’s not the elfin Hepburn, but she has the voice of a Julie Andrews (Marni Nixon’s singing was dubbed for Hepburn’s Eliza). Doyle is nicely feisty (“Just You Wait,” “Show Me”), melds wonderfully with Yuskauskas and Love (a delightful “The Rain In Spain”) and her voice soars with heart-breaking wonder (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “I Could Have Danced All Night”).
Fahringer is terrific (the sprightly “With A Little Bit Of Luck” and the exuberant “Get Me To The Church On Time”).
Samantha Ann Silverman is a properly severe Mrs. Pearce. JoAnn Wilchek Basist has precise comedic timing as Mrs. Higgins.
Costume Designer Kaczorowski outfits the 16-member Ensemble in wonderfully eye-popping black and white for the Embassy Ball, launches Mrs. Higgins in battleship gray; gives Eliza the hat the size of a patio umbrella, and wraps Eliza in a breathtaking midnight blue gown.
The eight-member Dance Ensemble really gets a workout by choreographer Dearborn.
The Cockney Quartet and the six-member Servants’ Chorus, guided by music director Bara, are terrific.
Don’t miss “My Fair Lady” at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre, the new London West End in Allentown’s West End.
Tickets: Muhlenberg College box office, Trexler Pavilion for Theater and Dance, 2400 Chew St., Allentown; muhlenberg.edu/smt; 484-664-3333.