Wednesday, June 4, 2014

theatre review MY FAIR LADY In Concert, Phoenix Symphony Orchestra/Phoenix Theatre, May 30

Click here to read my complete review at Talkin' Broadway (highlights below) of the recent concert production of My Fair Lady, presented by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and Phoenix Theatre.

The size of orchestras for Broadway musicals has drastically declined over the years. During the golden age of Broadway in the 1950s an orchestra consisted of close to thirty musicians, while most today have only around a dozen, with synthesizers now substituting for several instruments. In regional and community theatres it can be even worse; sometimes just a few individuals are responsible for playing the score to a famous show, often resulting in a very thin sounding musical accompaniment. So it's fortunate for theatre lovers in the Phoenix area that the Phoenix Theatre and Phoenix Symphony Orchestra have came together once again for their annual musical theatre collaboration and we had the opportunity to experience My Fair Lady with an orchestra of more than 50 musicians. Hearing the classic Lerner and Loewe score, with such familiar songs as "I Could Have Danced All Night," "The Rain in Spain," and "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?" performed by a large, lush orchestra could easily transport even the most cynical person into a state of happiness. And with a cast that excels in portraying these classic characters, the whole evening culminated into a musical theatre lover's dream.

As the fourth annual musical theatre collaboration between the Valley's two arts organizations, the slightly abridged version of this well-known show was directed by Phoenix Theatre Producing Artistic Director Michael Barnard, with the orchestra under the baton of guest conductor, and Tony Award winner, Ted Sperling, who has also led the Symphony in other concerts in the past. Barnard and Sperling worked together on last year's collaboration, South Pacific, and their effectiveness in collaborating is quite apparent.

Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady opened on Broadway in 1956. Set in London in 1912, Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, upon meeting phonetics expert and aficionado of the "science of speech" Professor Henry Higgins, wishes for the better life a more refined accent would deliver. The self-centered Higgins wagers a bet with his fellow linguistic professional Colonel Pickering that he can transform Eliza into a proper lady within six months just by teaching her the correct way to speak. The combination of Alan Jay Lerner's book, with its sophisticated sense of humor, the instantly loveable characters of Eliza and Higgins, and the glorious score by Frederick Loewe elevated My Fair Lady into a smash hit, winning six Tony Awards including the top honor of Best Musical.

The success of any production of My Fair Lady rests on the relationship between Eliza and Higgins, and with the assured performances of Jeannie Shubitz and Terry Lee Gadaire this one didn't disappoint. Shubitz's lilting soprano easily let her songs soar and her well-honed acting skills painted a multi layered character that quickly showed Eliza's aspirations for a better life, one that included having to put up with Higgins' bullying. Shubitz also played the role of Eliza in the Arizona Broadway Theatre production in 2011. Gadaire's Higgins, at first, might have come across as just a bit too harsh and selfish, but the amount of humor and wit he brought to Lerner's famous dialogue and his rich singing voice created an engaging portrayal.

The two arts organizations have already announced a fifth collaboration for next May, with performances May 29th to the 31st, 2015. While they've not yet announced what musical they will be presenting, I'm sure it will be another excellent experience and just as successful as this year's co-production of My Fair Lady.

My Fair Lady with the Phoenix Symphony and the Phoenix Theatre played three performances from May 30th to June 1st at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at Upcoming production information at the Phoenix Theatre can be found at

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