Richard Hamburger

Cultivated ‘Lady’
Dallas Theater Center develops musical’s drama

By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News

No matter how many times you’ve seen My Fair Lady, you’ve never seen one like the Dallas Theater Center’s.

The classic Lerner and Loewe musical, now almost 50 years old, opened at the Arts District Theater on Tuesday. It’s a chamber version, using only 10 actors and two pianists. The entire action takes place on John Coyne’s three-level set, which looks like an old-fashioned Victorian horseshoe theater interior.

Richard Hamburger established his reputation as an original interpreter of American musicals years ago with a South Pacific that brought out its psychological and historical implications. His My Fair Lady takes the opposite approach. It theatricalizes every moment. Mr. Hamburger went to clown school, and he encourages broad clowning from everyone in this tale of Henry Higgins, a linguistics professor who teaches a flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to talk like a duchess.

Take Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the young nitwit who falls in love with Eliza – usually the dullest role in all musical theater. Jeff Edgerton gets a laugh from every line in his big song, “On the Street Where You Live.” He sings it beautifully too, in a style closer to speech (or to cabaret) than the mindless warbling we usually hear.

That duality epitomizes the whole show – bravely funny business and strong but unconventional musical values. David Coffee as Colonel Pickering and James Brennan as Eliza’s father, Alfred, come closest to standard interpretations. Mr. Coffee, a Casa Mañana favorite, wouldn’t normally milk old vaudeville tricks like these to get laughs, though. Mr. Brennan nearly steals the show; we’ve always known Alfred P. Doolittle’s songs come from the old British music hall tradition, but nobody ever scampered through them like this before.

Sherry Boone as Eliza and Martin Kildare as Higgins sometimes look as though they were playing those puppet antagonists Punch and Judy. Mr. Kildare has a high old time showing off, but does have some reserves of feeling left for his darker moments. You might tire of his endless shark-toothed grin, though.

Most unorthodox and most brilliant of all, Ms. Boone doesn’t even try to make Eliza a waif. She’s a cat from the beginning, under all that deference to Higgins’ superior class. Opera trained, she can bounce between soprano heights and contralto power, all shaped gorgeously into meaningful phrases. Higgins calls her his “consort battleship,” and indeed she is.

This is the last show in the Arts District Theater before they tear it down, and it’s a rousing, theatrical send-off. But leave your preconceptions at the door.

© Richard Hamburger, Theater Director      Site design and maintenance by Amy Lacy.