DETROIT – It’s a rare opportunity to see a Golden Age musical these days. Many modern-day musicals trend towards pop-infused shows with small bands and bare sets. Gone are the days of lush orchestras, intricate practical sets (not screens or projections) and “how did they do that” choreography.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of modern musicals. Some of my current favorites are shows from the last few years, but there is a reason it was called the “Golden Age” of Broadway. So, this chance to see a 1956 classic was a glorious treat.
My Fair Lady, now playing at the Detroit Opera House and presented by Broadway in Detroit, is the Lincoln Center Theater’s highly acclaimed production that ran on Broadway in 2018. The Bartlett Sher-directed revival was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won one for Catherine Zuber’s stunning costume design.
The musical, an adaptation of the play Pygmalion, tells the story of Eliza Doolittle (Shereen Ahmad), a young flower girl, who encounters Professor Henry Higgins (Laird Mackintosh), a phonetician who wants to mold her into his idea of a proper lady through speech lessons.
Shereen Ahmad, as the Cockney street seller, crafts a beautifully well-developed and headstrong Eliza. Not only does Ahmad bring the effortlessly gorgeous vocals necessary for the role (especially in “I Could Have Danced All Night”), but she also brings the comedy in all the right places. The way Ahmad maneuvers between the Cockney and “proper” accents, especially in tense moments of drama, is expertly integrated and adds these wonderfully complex layers to her arc.
Laird Mackintosh, as Henry Higgins, is a bonafide character actor. While the audience is never entirely sure whether to root for Higgins or not, Mackintosh plays the professor with such joy and physicality that, despite some of Higgins’ more questionable motives, you can’t help but have fun when he’s around.
Related: Interview: My Fair Lady’s Laird Mackintosh on bringing the classic musical across the country
Michael Yeargan’s Tony-nominated sets are stars of their own. From the dreary streets of Covent Garden to a sparkling embassy ballroom, these lush concepts fully transport audiences to each setting. The biggest star, of course, is Higgins’ house, a two-story revolving unit with fully functioning stairs and doors that, as it turns, reveals different rooms in the house. It’s a very effective and eye-catching use of the stage, especially in scenes like “The Servants’ Chorus” where the set would turn and you could catch little vignettes of what’s happening in each room.
The showstopper of the night came from the Act II ensemble sequence “Get Me to the Church on Time.” The big, bold dance number, led by Martin Fisher as Eliza’s drunken father, truly felt like classic bygone Broadway. Not only did it reveal just how big the cast really was, but it also showed how much fun everyone on stage was having, which radiated over to the audience who responded with rapturous applause.
Since the show is set in 1912 London, the heavy accents made certain parts of dialogue difficult to understand, especially in the beginning. Luckily, the pace of the show is executed well enough that it’s easy to pick up what’s happening even if every word isn’t understood.
There’s something to be said when a 66-year-old show can not only entertain, but also resonate with audiences today. From the classic songs you know and love like “The Rain in Spain” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” to the big ensemble numbers and even bigger set, My Fair Lady is everything a revival needs to be: a ‘loverly’ evening in the theatre.
My Fair Lady is now playing a two-week engagement at the Detroit Opera House through July 24. Tickets start at $25. For showtimes and tickets, visit BroadwayinDetroit.com.