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Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Fair Lady

Barbara and I went to see My Fair Lady at the Opera House last night. Not surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed this production of the greatest musical in history. 24-year-old Lisa O’Hare was especially effective in her outstanding performance as Eliza. Unfortunately Christopher Cazenove was rather ordinary and unimpressive as Henry Higgins. The rest of the cast ranged from good to excellent; Tim Jerome deserves special mention for his almost-over-the-top rendition of the comic role of Alfred P. Doolittle.

Although it has been 26 years since the last time I saw My Fair Lady, I still know it practically by heart, since it’s unquestionably my favorite musical ever. So I was intrigued by some of the changes from the classic productions of the original cast and the movie. In particular, the director turned “With a Little Bit of Luck” into a highly entertaining production number, “Show Me” into attendance by Eliza at a suffragette rally, and the Ascot scene into mourning for King Edward VII (the date of the action was moved from 1912 to 1910). All of these amounted to a lagniappe for the audience — enhancing the original conception of this musical rather than destroying it.

I’ve been told that the reason I like My Fair Lady so much might be that I have a background in linguistics, but I’m not at all sure that that’s it. Yes, the linguistic aspects of the musical certainly add extra meaning and interest for me, but they certainly aren’t the main theme of the show. Besides, I loved My Fair Lady before I became a linguist. Actually, I’m more intrigued by its meaning to me as a teacher. Or should I be referring to Shaw’s Pygmalion, on which most of My Fair Lady (except for the unfortunate last scene) is very closely based? The Greek myth of Pygmalion is always a cautionary tale for teachers, since we run the risk of taking credit for our students’ achievements — and, by extension, blame for their failures. The entire way that Professor Henry Higgins thinks of Eliza as his personal creation is all too tempting, especially in the current political climate in which teachers are supposed to be “accountable” for what their students do. I’m not going to get on the subject of merit pay now while reviewing a play, but it’s surprisingly relevant. More on this later, perhaps.

Before the show we had dinner at Ivy; I’ll post a review in a couple of days.

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