WHAT “My Fair Lady”
WHEN | WHERE Extended through Sept. 4: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, at Bay Street Theater, Long Wharf, Sag Harbor
TICKETS $25-$125; 631-725-9500, baystreet.org
It’s hard to imagine another show receiving universal praise like “Hamilton.” But 60 years before that Broadway phenomenon, a musical based on a George Bernard Shaw play opened to such acclaim that one critic suggested it’s a waste of time to read his review. Spend it instead on booking tickets.
Yet it’s been nearly a quarter-century since Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s masterpiece was last revived on Broadway — perhaps because its male protagonist is a sexist pig and the object of his misogyny is of a class we’d regard today as a 99 percenter.
The play that inspired “My Fair Lady” took its name, “Pygmalion,” from Greek mythology: A sculptor carves a statue so lovely that Aphrodite grants her life. In a brilliant reimagination at Bay Street Theater, the young woman Professor Henry Higgins brings to cultured life is a Cockney-accented girl whose pronunciation of English words containing the long vowel A offends him so deeply that he regards her as subhuman.
We meet Eliza Doolittle outside Covent Garden, where two snooty phoneticists, Higgins and Colonel Pickering, cross paths as she’s hawking flowers. Higgins bets Pickering that he’ll pass “this guttersnipe” off as an embassy ball “lady.”
It takes weeks to teach her that “rain in Spain” is not “Rhine in Spine.” Once she gets that it falls “mainly in the plain,” Higgins drops his guard and dances with Eliza, bringing director Michael Arden’s concept into — aha! — focus: Paul Alexander Nolan’s Higgins is roughly the same age as Eliza, played by Kelli Barrett with spirited vulnerability. As she swoons deliriously into “I Could Have Danced All Night,” we share her thrill.
Alexander’s imperious Higgins shows he’s human in “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” while Howard McGillin as Pickering empathizes with comic awkwardness. Bobby Conte Thornton’s Freddy, who falls for Eliza when she makes an “arse” of herself at Ascot, knocks “On the Street Where You Live” out of the park, although there’s no baseball in London. John O’Creagh might have been born to play Eliza’s reprobate philosopher-father, Alfred P. Doolittle
Dual pianists Adam Wachter and Bruce Barnes let the splendid lyrics they accompany speak for themselves. But the genius of this new “Lady” is the directorial conceit embodied in Dane Laffrey’s set, recruiting the audience as witnesses in a surgeon’s operating theater as Higgins experiments on Eliza.
As for the ending, we won’t go there, other than to say “Lady” triumphs. You’ve already read the review, so . . .