Less is more for local production of ‘My Fair Lady’

A big musical in miniature, up close and personal, SF Playhouse’s “My Fair Lady” is a win-win proposition.

For those few who haven’t experienced how Eliza Doolittle “could have danced all night,” it’s an excellent introduction. At the time, for the zillion veterans of stage presentations or the classic film, director Bill English’s production is a new experience.

Closing SF Playhouse’s ninth season, the Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical based on Shaw’s “Pygmalion” features a wondrous small cast of actors on a tiny stage. (The company opens its 10th season in the fall in the bigger Post Street Theatre.)

The show is scaled down in every way, to two pianos — Greg Mason and David Dobrusky, seated across each other behind the audience, providing true stereophonic accompaniment — and a cast of 11, some in multiple roles.

Nina Ball’s minimalist sets invoke Covent Garden with a few columns or the Ascot Racecourse with a portable picket fence.

It’s simple, small, intimate — and it works.

Johnny Moreno, half the age of Rex Harrison when he became Henry Higgins in perpetuity, and at least twice as good-looking, plays the dictatorial professor who meets his match in the street-tough Eliza. She is played by the young and daring Monique Hafen, who is “loverly,” once the Cockney grime is washed off.

Charles Dean, a longtime favorite on Bay Area stages, is Eliza’s errant, noisome father, while Richard Frederick is Col. Pickering, a staunch supporter of poor Eliza.

In one of English’s imaginative embellishments, Frederick plays the king in Eliza’s fantasy about offing the professor as she sings “Just you wait Henry Higgins.”

Standouts in the all-purpose ensemble include Justin Gillman as the lovestruck Freddy, who hits “On the Street Where You live” out of the park.

As with Harrison’s famed Higgins, here the cast does well reciting, rather than truly singing Loewe’s wonderful music.

With proper diction at the heart of the story, accents are often a problem for American casts of “My Fair Lady.” In this production, the actors speak with an American cadence, approximating the British only in key scenes, such as “Why can’t the English?” Considering the acting and singing challenges of the piece, it’s a wise decision.

REVIEW

My Fair Lady

Presented by SF Playhouse

Where: 533 Sutter St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes Sept. 29

Tickets: $30 to $70

Contact: (415) 677-9596,www.sfplayhouse.org

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