For legions of musical theater fans, Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady" is the fairest of them all.
Written in 1956, this musical based on George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" is a witty exploration of altering class distinctions by acquiring proper speech.
In the production running through April 23, the cast delivers all that is required, and more, to make "My Fair Lady" one of the best shows ever at Chesapeake Music Hall.
The play opens outside Covent Garden, where Professor Henry Higgins takes notes on cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle's speech patterns. He assures Eliza and his friend Colonel Pickering that he can teach her to speak like a lady and pass off "this guttersnipe as a duchess" or accomplish something even more difficult and have her speak well enough to open a flower shop.
When Eliza has acquired the rudiments of proper speech, Higgins and Pickering escort her to the Ascot Races. Later, she completes her studies by being accepted as regal at a society ball.
From the opening scene outside Covent Garden, Chesapeake Music Hall's production has all the elements to assure a delightful evening of theater. Sherry Kay's choreography is a joyous interpretation of simple cockney pleasures. Beginning with the overture, the great tunes sound terrific and get better when sung by the talented cast.
Katy McAllister Danckaert, who has assisted in directing several Chesapeake Music Hall shows and appeared on its stage in a number of memorable performances, makes a spectacular directing debut. She has assembled a cast of gifted actors and musical performers from whom she has drawn consistently excellent work.
Most of all, the two leads are perfectly cast. In an interview, Susan Bell said she considered the role of Eliza to "be such a gift" and working with David B. Reynolds, who plays Higgins, "a wonderful experience." Just about perfect for the role, this skilled actress has a lovely singing voice and a great cockney accent. She does well with every song but makes "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" and "Just You Wait" her own, along with "I Could Have Danced All Night" and "The Rain in Spain."
She and Reynolds are terrific together, each bolstered and enhanced by the other.
Over the years, I've seen Reynolds deliver so many fine performances that I expect excellence, but I was not prepared for his masterful portrayal of Higgins. The program notes quote him as "being thrilled" to play a favorite role, and in a recent interview he added that Higgins is "complex."
He acknowledged encountering difficulties with Lerner's lyrics, which are packed with "so many words, it is difficult to sing them and better to speak them."
Reynolds knows precisely when to speak and when to sing the words in "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" to add dramatic intensity to this marvelous song. What's more, his diction is as flawless as that of any British grammar expert, making him totally convincing as Higgins. Reynolds also knows how to play the sardonic snob without losing sight of Higgins' human vulnerability, and he knows how to get the most out of his comic lines.
As Eliza's father, Alfred P. Doolittle, Jerry Vess is delightfully sleazy, and John Scheeler is classy as Pickering. Joe Rose puts his stamp on the role of weakling Freddy Eynsford-Hill, his athletic skills making Freddy funny and lovable. Rose also delivers a knock-out "On the Street Where You Live" that becomes another high point in the show.
"My Fair Lady" runs weekends and Wednesdays through April 23. Call the box office at 410-626-7515 to reserve tickets.