Despite the fact that Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” was an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion, ” the work was ultimately a view of British culture through a decidedly American filter. The 1956 show was the first Broadway production to make a wholesale transfer to London’s West End with its original cast in tact (making it the only show to have two separate cast albums with the same cast, the later British one recorded in stereo), and was every bit as popular in London as it remained on Broadway. In the same way that Americans loved having American blues and rock sold back to itself via the British Invasion of the 1960s, the British public has always loved this uniquely American take on the English ethos. There have actually been more major British revivals of this show than there have been Broadway revivals, none more lavish than the 2001 National Theater revival produced by Cameron Macintosh and directed by Trevor Nunn that ran for years in England and is still touring, currently running for a short stint in Chicago. How British is this production? So British, that some of the accents and dialects are authentic enough to be unintelligible at times, none of which is helped by tinny amplification. Christopher Cazenove’s appearance as Henry Higgins recalls Rex Harrison, but his elocution, diction and rhythm are unfocused and mushy, ironic for a professor of phonetics. Lisa O’Hare, who originated the role of “Mary Poppins” in the musical stage version—the role that, ironically, the original Eliza Doolittle Julie Andrews won an Oscar for over Audrey Hepburn after Hollywood had bypassed Andrews in favor of Hepburn for the film version of “My Fair Lady”—makes a charming Eliza, but is missing the clarion top notes needed for the climactic songs. The nature of the relationship between Eliza and Higgins was at best, ambiguous in the original staging and film, but not here: the chemistry between the two is unmistakably romantic, made all the more obvious by a re-staged ending scene and a boyfriend for Eliza that is never the slightest competition for Higgins and who squanders the most melodic moment of the show (“On the Street Where You Live”) by just barely carrying the tune. But these are Nunn trademarks, as are the elaborate sets and the virtually cinematic scene transitions as songs are in progress and reduced orchestrations, and you either find such an approach “loverly” or just a “fair” lady. Perhaps the biggest irony here is having Marni Nixon, the superb singer who dubbed Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice in the film version and who is still singing, appear in a non-singing role as Mrs. Higgins. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, (312)902-1400. This production is now closed.