If you weren’t sure what Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s “My Fair Lady” is all about, the lucid new production at Music Circus shows you.
The masterpiece opening the 65th summer season of musical theater in downtown Sacramento could be just another affable old-school chestnut, but George Bernard Shaw’s source material won’t allow it. Shaw’s play “Pygmalion,” which the musical is based on, examines the entrenched class structures of English society while also dramatically ignoring the convention of romantic comedy that the narrative tilts toward.
Director Glenn Casale’s smooth, clean production sits down in the middle of the matter-of-fact class struggles. Opening numbers “Why Can’t the English” and “Wouldn’t It be Loverly?” deliver a sense of values, hopes and dreams. The working classes know their place as much as the upper classes inhabit theirs. However when Paul Schoeffler’s imperious, self-centered Henry Higgins crosses paths with the scuffling Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, he eventually makes it clear he looks down on everyone in quite the same way.
Taking up the challenge of elevating Eliza through refining her diction and manners is a theoretical experiment despite the pleas of his housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (Mary Jo Mecca) and his observing colleague Colonel Pickering (William Parry). What we see from Glory Crampton’s Eliza, though, is just how much the young woman risks and how much she grows as a result of Higgins’ influence. This really is Eliza’s story even though it’s told through Higgins’ sensibilities.
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The musical’s wonderfully varied score receives vibrant, robust singing from leads Schoeffler and Crampton with particularly fine renditions of “The Rain In Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night” and the finale “I’ve Grown Accustomed to her Face.” Jason Forbach also gives a beautiful version of Freddy Eynsford-Hill’s love-sick lament, “On The Street Where You Live.”
Stephen Berger’s sly scene-stealing Alfred Doolittle embodies the production as much as any character, happily and resolutely embracing his lot in life with gusto and panache.
Perhaps the greatest triumph in this battle of wills between Eliza and Henry is how the final truce feels so fulfilling.
My Fair Lady
- What: Music Circus opens its season with Lerner and Loewe’s adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”
- When: Continues at 7:30 p.m through Sunday and at 2 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday
- Where: Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., Sacramento
- Tickets: $40-$83
- Information: (916) 557-1999, SacramentoMusicCircus.com
- Time: Two hours and 55 minutes, including one intermission