One of the most perfectly formed musicals of Broadway’s golden age, “My Fair Lady” has a heavenly score – music by Alan Jay Lerner and lyrics by Frederick Loewe – and a sublime and solid libretto by Loewe.
It is based on George Bernard Shaw’s classic “Pygmalion,” sourced from Ovid’s poem about a sculptor falling in love with his statue, brought to life by his kiss, courtesy of a little divine intervention from the goddess Aphrodite.
If only the production at Broadway By the Bay had been so mythically blessed! Following the company’s magnificent “Les Misérables,” this Redwood City “Lady” should have danced all night. Instead, the production is more squashed cabbage leaf than embassy ball duchess. The curtains rise to a promisingly gorgeous set by Annie Dauber in and around which Eliza Doolittle (Samantha Williams) dances while silently fantasizing about owning one of the fancy dresses – lovely costumes by Valerie Emmi – that she sees in the shop windows.
Soon clouds and audience hopes burst. When Eliza and Professor Henry Higgins (Scott Solomon) first interact, his cry is “Heavens, what a sound!” It’s his one credible moment in the evening as all the lower-class accents and several of the upper have a distinctly “trying too hard” quality that becomes grating over time.
Williams is a sweet presence but lacks that “divine fire” Eliza needs to counter what should be Higgins bombast. Another discordant note is that Williams is a fine mezzo, but Eliza really needs the ebullience of a soprano to make her songs soar.
Unfortunately, nothing soars in the tight-lipped performance by Solomon, making his musical debut. His vocals are thin and the character is devoid of charisma. It’s a wonder Eliza stays with him, let alone returns at the end of the evening.
Sergey Khalikoulov is a charming puppy of a Freddy but his singing lacks passion, Praveen Ramesh gives an interestingly different take on Col. Pickering, and Kristina Hudelson could use more starch as housekeeper Mrs. Peace. The ensemble sings well in spite of the orchestra – special applause to the quartet: Kyle Arrouzte, Jesse Cortez, Joseph Hudelson and Andrew Kracht – but almost no one looks happy dancing.
The two real bright spots are parental figures Karen DeHart and Gary Stanford Jr. As Mrs. Higgins, DeHart clearly gets the sensibility of the show and is a charming combination of suffrage and suffering as Henry’s exasperated mother. As Eliza’s father, unwillingly thrust into middle-class morality, Stanford’s Alfred P. Doolittle shows off a spry and winning physicality that lights up the stage. He’s a strong center for “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” – the only really successful production numbers of the night.
My Fair Lady
Presented by Broadway By the Bay
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 21
Tickets: $47 to $69
Contact: (650) 579-5565, www. broadwaybythebay.org