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Theater review: 'My Fair Lady' staging recalls the beloved musical’s splendors

Published: Monday, March 17 2014 4:02 p.m. MDT

Ashley Gardner-Carlson as Eliza Doolittle and Joseph Paur as Henry Higgins in The Egyptian Theatres My Fair Lady.

The Egyptian Theatre

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“MY FAIR LADY,” Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main, Park City, through March 30, $25-$55, 435-649-9371 or egyptiantheatrecompany.org

PARK CITY — It’s a loverly production, it is. With Ashley Gardner-Carlson regally taking on the lead role and robust support from other talented artists, the Egyptian Theatre’s “My Fair Lady” is a reminder of the grandeur of this beloved musical.

Based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” with book, music and lyrics by the legendary duo of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, the 1956 Broadway production was a hit, winning the Tony for Best Musical and running for a then-record 2,717 performances. Loewe’s score is a pinnacle of Broadway romanticism. Lerner’s book and lyrics are a perfect match and are made stronger by liberal sections of text taken directly from Shaw’s original play.

The cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle transformed into an elegant princess is a demanding role for any actress, because pre- and post-makeover Eliza are essentially different characters. Gardner-Carlson captures both the gritty and elegant sides while maintaining her innocence and vulnerability. Her confidence in the role and vibrant singing, along with her swanlike beauty, endear her to the audience.

The Lerner-Lowe team gifted all musical actresses who play this memorable character many lovely ballads, including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” and “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and Gardner-Carlson impresses in each. This reviewer was dazzled, however, by “Show Me,” where Eliza’s pent-up frustration is released.

Henry Higgins’ slippers don’t comfortably fit Joseph Paur. There are sparks of bravado when he ridicules Eliza for her errant vowels and absent consonants. But Higgins should savor each witticism he spouts and display self-aggrandizing pleasure in his precise elocution, and those elements are missed in this ill-at-ease performance.

Rather than an aloof and haughty Col. Pickering, Jonathan Scott McBride’s command of the role is active and engaging, making the character more involved in Eliza’s transformation. Craig Williams as Freddy is lovely voiced in “On the Street Where You Live,” bringing infectious longing. Stephen McBride is having a great time playing the scheming pauper Alfred P. Doolittle, and he leads the rousing “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

The strength of Amber Hansen’s direction is seen in the overall conception, and there’s hearty support from Anne Puzey as music director and Marilyn Montgomery’s choreography. All of the vocals are superb, and some of the ensemble pieces are performed so vividly one might wonder if they have been professionally prerecorded. Each dance sequence is inventively staged, and the ensemble players vigorously perform the steps with fluidity.

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