Possessing some of the finest hummable songs in musical theatre, My Fair Lady has charmed audiences since 1956, and sometimes been called “the perfect musical.” But anyone who sings “I Could Have Danced All Night” in the shower knows how deceptively difficult Frederick Loewe’s score can be, especially with that high note at the end. Fear not, the production at Sonoma Arts Live has Sarah Wintermeyer as Eliza, who will regale you with her superb delivery of all those “Loverly” songs, with a voice of liquid gold and her spunky charm.
Shining star Wintermeyer isn’t alone, thank goodness— local favorite Larry Williams also excels in one of his best roles yet, as the curmudgeonly Henry Higgins. Tim Setzer does a lively turn as Eliza’s father Alfred Doolittle, and Chad Yarish enjoys the stuffy likability of Colonel Pickering. A small, accomplished ensemble of well-voiced actors fills out all the other roles, including the Covent Garden “undeserving poor,” servants in Higgins’ household, and Asccot attendees, happily capering with sprightly choreography by Staci Arriaga. Ryan Hook is a particular standout as Freddy Eynsford-Hill.
Based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, the plot centers on Cockney flower girl Eliza, whose low-class accent needs an upgrade if she’s to fulfill her dream of working in a proper flower shop. But dialect professor Henry Higgins goes her even better, offering her six months of live-in tutoring, betting Colonel Pickering that he can then pass her off as a Duchess at the Embassy Ball. Eliza’s tutelage and transformation are fun and fascinating, but raise ethical questions as well, regarding the lack of consideration for her future— where will she go? where will she fit in? Shaw’s skewering of the class system uncovers prejudices and inequalities that continue to linger in present day.
Director Michael Ross has cast well, and gets most of the requisite emotional mileage from his principals. Music director F. James Raasch leads a small but mighty band, hidden from view but sporting a big sound. Scenic design by Rahman Dalrymple creates a fine Higgins household on stage and adroitly employs basic set pieces for a variety of scenes on the house floor. Courtney Johnson’s lighting design nicely details each locale, and costumes by Barbara McFadden do well to distinguish class and character— her Ascot scene is particularly striking.
While the use of the house floor seems like a great idea for expanding the playing area, in this production, it cheats patrons in the side sections near the stage, who see a lot of actors’ backs in the ensemble numbers, especially in act one. The blocking doesn’t do enough to mitigate the unfortunate staging choices, leaving too many patrons unable to view expressions and action.
Enjoy the fun of this excellent production and the treat of Wintermeyer’s fine portrayal of Eliza, sparring with Williams’ top-notch ‘Enry ‘Iggins in a musical theatre classic. It’s your summer inspiration for shower singing…
My Fair Lady
Book & Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe
Presented by Sonoma Arts Live through July 28, 2019
Thu/Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E Napa St, Sonoma,Sonoma
Photos by Eric Chazankin