My Fair Lady, the classic tale can take on a modern interpretation

Certain classic musicals have stood the test of time. My Fair Lady is an example. While the Pygmalion-like story has been told in many ways, the idea of perception, societal roles, and relationships can evolve based on the particular era. In the current tour production by Lerner and Loewe, Eliza’s transformation can be seen in another light.

When My Fair Lady premiered in 1956, Julie Andrews brought her angelic voice to Eliza Dolittle. While that original production played for over 2,700 performances, the story of a young girl who dreamed of better is more than the iconic line of the rain in Spain falls gently on the plain. It is an examination of how people judge one another.

While chefs might say show me what a person eats and I can tell you part of their story, how a person talks can give a glimpse into their background. Even though people can try to hide that Southern accent or sometimes slip into that Midwest nice approach, the reality is that people are a reflection of where they grow up. A person can choose to change, but it does not wipe away everything.

In addition, sometimes people make judgments about a person based on that initial moment. How a person pronounces a word, talks about a subject, or presents themselves can lead some people to put them into a particular category or box. Rightly or wrongly, it happens.

As the audience sits down to watch the current production of My Fair Lady, those broad-based ideas should come to play. Even though the musical’s setting is decades ago in England, a similar scenario could happen outside Louisville, Kentucky, the Bronx, New York, or the Southside of Chicago. The idea of a person putting aside a humble upbringing by changing how they appear to others is relatable no matter the setting.

My Fair Lady

Jonathan Grunert as Professor Henry Higgins, Madeline Powell as Eliza Doolittle and John Adkison as Colonel Pickering in The National Tour of MY FAIR LADY. Photo by Jeremy Daniel, photo provided by Dr Phillips Center

In this performance, Eliza Doolittle (Madeline Powell) balanced the two different accents with ease. Even if there were moments when the audience might have been unfamiliar with the terminology, the emotion was there. More importantly, her voice was smooth, at times carefree, and moments of power.

Contrasting Eliza was Professor Henry Higgins (Jonathan Grunert). Watching this portrayal, there seemed to be a nod to a perfecting scientist who prefers to never venture outside of that comforting structure. Even though he believes in his academic abilities, he has uncertainty in dealing with others. Given that he can tell so much about a person based on their pronunciation, it is baffling that he cannot interpret the emotional inflection in a person’s voice.

Still, his role draws almost more attention than Eliza’s. The quick-witted comeback might be unexpected, but it keeps the story moving forward. Everyone wants to like the Professor even though he needs to become more emotionally mature.

Overall, My Fair Lady is an enjoyable night of theater due to the glimpse into society’s life. Whether it is the pomp and circumstance of the recent coronation being an influence can be debated. From the gowns to the dream of being the most captivating woman in the room, it has that touch of fairytale appeal.

Still, there are times when the universality of the storylines can be drawn to even the current tabloid celebrity world. From the unexpected person who goes from nothing to being uber-rich or the unconfident woman who rises beyond her station, the audience can see it happen over and over again. While Eliza could have danced all night, the reality is that everyone can feel swept off their feet at the moment.

My Fair Lady the National Touring production played Dr. Phillips Center. Additional dates follow across the U.S.