Google “My Fair Lady,” and you’re more than likely to find numerous images and posters all featuring the most elegant of clothing, and every outfit includes a hat. The show as presented by Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, breathes fresh air into this musical classic with its exquisite parade of high-society fashion in turn-of-the-century London, and it is magnificent.
“My Fair Lady,” originally brought to the stage by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Lowe in 1956, bases its story on “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw. Beef & Boards’ 2017 version revisits the efforts of linguistics expert Professor Henry Higgins (David Schmittou) to remake Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Kimberly Doreen Burns) into something that resembles a high-born lady. Higgins and his companion, Colonel Pickering (Mark Goetzinger), drill Eliza on proper British grammar and dialect until the entire household staff is begging them — in song — to quit.
Burns as Eliza is adorable and likeable but seems to take some time to warm up to a Cockney accent worthy of the disgust and scorn of Henry Higgins. She brings her accent up to speed in time for her appearance at Higgins’ house and for the turning point musical number, “The Rain in Spain.” Higgins, Pickering and Eliza celebrate; after grueling weeks of repeating vowels and phrases in guttersnipe dialect, Eliza finally masters a-sounds that sound like A instead of I.
Artistic director Eddie Curry typically has his hand in every Beef & Boards production as director or actor. In “My Fair Lady,” he does both.
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Supporting role Alfred P. Doolittle — Eliza’s shiftless father — necessitates less stage time for Curry, but it seems to agree with him. I found myself smiling at his performance. Curry obviously has way too much fun singing and dancing his way through “With a Little Bit of Luck” (about the joys of laziness) and “Get Me to the Church on Time” (about finally tying the knot with his long-time lady friend).
And then there are the costumes. Most notable is the attire for the scene at the Royal Ascot, a real-life prestigious horse racing event held annually in Great Britain. Eliza accompanies Henry Higgins on this elitist outing as a trial run in passing her off as a British sophisticate. She and the others on stage are all dressed in black and white. This prompted some research into the Royal Ascot where seating areas are labeled Village Enclosure (tickets are about $18), Queen Anne Enclosure ($93) and Royal Enclosure (day badge pass, which includes dinner in the garden, valet parking and private finish line seating – call for prices). Each has its own fascinating dress code, which does indeed strongly suggest black, white and shades of gray. Hats are mandatory. Kudos to costumer Jimm Halliday for doing his homework and his attention to detail.
The wood grain richness of the set and the luxurious furnishings convey the home of an upper-crust Brit. In addition to the books in Henry Higgins’ library, scenic designer Michael Layton adds a victrola and a candlestick telephone as finishing touches.
However, a medium-sized mirror on the stage proved distracting. At first, I thought that someone forgot to close the curtains in front of a window on the set, and we were seeing actors backstage. Eventually, I realized the mirror was angled, and I was seeing the backs and profiles of the actors on stage.
“My Fair Lady” is one of the gems of musical theater, featuring recognizable songs such as “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Just You Wait.” Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Herb Porter) attempts to court Eliza with “On the Street Where You Live” with a voice as smooth as ice cream on a summer day.
No matter how many times you’ve been, an evening at Beef & Boards is always a special occasion. Attendees are treated like royalty; the food is plentiful and good; the service is impeccable, and the professional level of the performance never disappoints.
“My Fair Lady” plays at Beef & Boards, 9301 Michigan Road, until May 14. Visit beefandboards.com for show times and ticket prices. For reservations, call the Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre Box Office at 317-872-9664.