54 Sings My Fair Lady

54 Sings My Fair Lady

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, October 2, 2016

Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes

54-sngs-my-fair-lady-cabaret-scenes-magazine_212The newest installment in the 54 Sings series seemed like an easy sell: a great line-up of talent, backstage tales of Broadway lore that both the Everyman and the show queen can appreciate and, of course, an incredible score by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe to draw from. What audiences were treated to, instead, was a puzzling staged concert of abbreviated material that shined no light on the score or the piece itself.

The show opened with an overture played gorgeously by a six-piece band—including a harp, no less—which was intended to set the tone for the evening. Unfortunately, following was an awkward scene between our Henry Higgins, Willy Falk, and a mix of characters (including Col. Pickering), played by Corey Skaggs.
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Instead of the typical 54 Sings format — a narrator who presents stories on the creation of the music — this edition would have our inhabitants attempting scenework to drive the impetus of music. 

Apparently, beginning with “Why Can’t the English,” Falk does not seem to have the chops to put over a role that demands a command of language, vocal coloring and internal complexity. Furthermore, he made a career out of playing powerhouse vocal stepouts—Chris in Miss Saigon, Tommy in Marilyn: An American Fable, et al.—and to cast him in a role that requires almost entirely sprechgesang is a waste of his talents.

Our ingénue, the regal-faced Laura Michelle Kelly, is a natural fit for the role of Eliza Doolittle and, while not always fully fleshed out in character, songs like “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” “Just You Wait” and “Show Me” were sensationally sung with a luxurious tonal quality and superb phrasing.

Moreover, Josh Young, playing Freddy, soared with “On the Street Where You Live” (even if the raised key and crooning style was more reminiscent of Star Search), while Gavin Lee as Alfred Doolittle straightforwardly gave us “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” with that rubber-faced charm that made him such a hit as Bert in Mary Poppins. Molly Pope, looking like a German washwoman, made the most out of every bit as Mrs. Pearce and her acting choices and sense of humor were the standout of the evening (although Penny Fuller’s deer-in-the-headlights takes in the Ascot scene were a close second).

It is such a disappointment to see great talent not presented to their full potential. While it was an ambitious approach by director T. Oliver Reid, Lerner’s book of My Fair Lady (and, similarly, Shaw’s Pygmalion) is a herculean text to comprehend and master—particularly in a short rehearsal time. And, without virtuosic actors to bring these scenes to life, it might be better to allow the performers to present these pieces as stand-alone chapters. For a score that we all know so well—a face we’ve grown accustomed to, as it were—hearing the music newly interpreted might ultimately give the audience an enhanced and fresh appreciation of this musical theater classic.
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Randolph B. Eigenbrode

Randolph is the newest addition to the writing staff at Cabaret Scenes. He is a cabaret teacher, previously teaching with legend Erv Raible, and his students have gone on to success in the field with sold-out shows and many awards. He is also a director and that, combined with a knowledge of the art form and techniques that cabaret performing encompasses, makes him love reviewing NYC’s cabaret scene. When not catching the Big Apple’s crazy talent, Randolph loves 1970s variety shows, mall Chinese food, Meryl Streep films and a good cold glass of pinot grigio.