“My Fair Lady” – Phoenix Symphony/Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ June 2, 2014


Phoenix Symphony/Phoenix Theatre, Symphony Hall
Phoenix, AZ

That’s a bit of Frederick Loewe’s brilliant “My Fair Lady” overture played by the original Broadway orchestra back in 1956 when the show opened.  Now, imagine that same overture played by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ted Sterling, a leading Broadway conductor.  Add Phoenix Theatre’s outstanding producing artistic director Michael Barnard’s masterful staging and outstanding local and national musical theater pros as the leads and you’ll have an idea of the superb performance these two leading arts groups presented to the Valley.

“My Fair Lady” is not often presented here because it’s a huge show filled with elaborate scenic demands and beautiful but expensive turn-of-the 20th-century costuming.  But in this elegantly staged concert version complete with scenery and costumes, Barnard and the Symphony brought “My Fair Lady” to vibrant life at Symphony Hall.

PT and the Symphony have joined forces for four years on an annual staged concert of great musicals but this is the first I’ve seen.  What a fool I was to miss earlier productions including “South Pacific” and “The Music Man.”

Jeannie Shubitz, a local talent now living in New York, returned in triumph to play Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl who becomes a lady.  Shubitz’s finely sculptured Eliza offered character insights rarely seen in the best “My Fair Lady” productions.  And her fabulous singing brought new life to Eliza’s song hits.

Local actor Mike Lawler played Colonel Pickering staunchly and Chris Ericksen turned Eliza’s rough-and-tumble father, Alfred Doolittle, into the perfect music hall clown.  Ian Christensen’s stalwart and beautifully sung Freddy Eynsford-Hill stopped the show with “On the Street Where You Live.”  Sally Jo Bannow played Mrs. Pearce, Henry Higgin’s maid, with impish sparkle, while Lisa Fogel was suavely aristocratic as Higgins’ mother.  Leading local performers played small roles and filled out the ensemble with charisma and executed Barnard’s constantly moving choreography with remarkable precision.

A few negatives.  Stage lighting was often problematic and the Cockney and the British dialects came and went inconsistently.  Finally, Terry Lee Gadaire’s Henry Higgins emphasized a more effete professor.  I prefer a more masculine Higgins as I don’t question the phonetics professor’s sexual orientation as some “My Fair Lady” critics do.  Conductor Sperling’s nuanced conducting of the excellent Phoenix Symphony gave the show a rich sound.

No word yet on next year’s show although the Symphony’s season brochure hints that it might be “Oliver.”  Local audiences should be glad these annual tributes to great musicals will continue.  What a performance “My Fair Lady” was.  It’s too bad it closed Sunday, June 1.

Grade: A