“My Fair Lady” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – December 8, 2021


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 “My Fair Lady,” based brilliantly on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” is a masterpiece of America’s Golden Age of Musical Theatre.  As such, the show merits reviving as long as the production either treasures the show with a stellar staging or finds new angles as it tells the story of flower person Eliza Doolittle who becomes a lady under Professor Henry Higgins’ tutelage.

The recent 2018 Broadway revival found new story nuances plus Bartlett Sher’s smart staging played amidst a new scenic design that boasted elaborate constructions that brought 1912 London to vibrant life and with lush new costume designs that didn’t copy the original show’s look.

To tour the huge Broadway revival would be cumbersome as it plays many brief engagements like this week’s ASU Gammage stop so unfortunately it doesn’t retain the show’s plush look as it has been thinned down to tour efficiently.  There is one outstanding thing here, though, and that is the production’s remarkable sound system.  Not one word of dialogue was missed and hearing every word is critical because “My Fair Lady’s” clever and telling lyrics are copied directly from Shaw’s original script.  To achieve this in ASU Gammage’s acoustically dreadful space is rarely realized.

The touring cast is unremarkable but competent with no glaringly inept performances but none of the Broadway revival’s skill.  The producers played safe by utilizing some of the Broadway staging’s understudies, although on opening night, a substitute played Eliza as Shereen Ahmed sat out allowing Nicole Ferguson to step into the pivotal role.  Like most of the cast, Ferguson failed to deliver either the part’s cockney dialect initially and never made the transition to the refined British accent as she always sounded like an American awkwardly trying to feign challenging accents.  Therefore, Eliza’s winning of two men – professor Higgins and suitor Freddy Eynsford-Hill – makes little sense.

Laird Mackintosh’s Higgins isn’t harsh enough at first so his softening as he falls for Eliza doesn’t have the power it must possess.  Adam Grupper’s Doolittle, Eliza’s boozy father, didn’t display the role’s vaudevillian shrewdness and lustiness in a very mediocre portrayal.  Leslie Alexander is an erudite Mrs. Higgins and Lee Zarret’s Zoltan Karpathy copied the film’s Theodore Bikel doing nothing to make the role his own.  Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill sang the show’s signature song, “On the Street Where You Live,” artfully although his look was not that of a dashing suitor.

The large ensemble sang and danced with flair and the orchestra, under John Bell’s artful conducting, made the brilliant score sound stunning but watching chorus members pushing and shoving set pieces into place is tiresome and not appropriate.

It is nice to have “My Fair Lady” back but the respectable revival, while not bad, doesn’t do this great show justice.  “My Fair Lady” plays through December 12.  Tickets may be obtained by calling the ASU Gammage/Ticketmaster box office or ordering tickets online at www.ticketmaster.com.

Grade: B



One Response to ““My Fair Lady” – ASU Gammage”

  1. Adam Grupper said:

    Dec 09, 21 at 16:50

    You are, of course, entitled to your opinion of our production and of my performance. Doubtless, none of us will suffer from your provincial snobbery. What I object to is your casual cruelty to our Eliza understudy, Nicole Ferguson, whose luminous performance, especially in the face of extraordinarily difficult circumstances,
    is nothing short of heroic. And your snide remark that our Freddy, Sam Simahk’s, “look was not that of a dashing suitor” suggests casual anti-Asian racism as well. You put me in mind of the much-reviled critic John Simon. Perhaps it’s time for you to be put to pasture, as he was.