Theater Review: "My Fair Lady"

Photo credit:
Welk Resort

Oh, that Henry Higgins. What a prig. What a jerk. What a genius! (Just ask him.)

Yep, George Bernard Shaw’s favorite linguist is back to amuse and annoy us with his smart-alecky and soulless use of poor Eliza Doolittle as a guinea pig to showcase his great ability to transform a flower girl into someone who can pass as nobility.

Welk Resorts San Diego offers a rollicking production of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” (based on Shaw’s play “Pygmalion”) through April 2 at their Escondido theater.

By now, one of the best things about this show is that most audience members could sing along. That’s always a problem for me: I never am given the chance, and have to force myself to settle for mouthing but not actually verbalizing Lerner’s terrific lyrics.

But enough about me. San Diego favorite Lance Arthur Smith plays Higgins, who happens onto Eliza at about the same time he runs into international linguist Colonel Pickering (Ralph Johnson), come to London to meet Higgins.

This is where Higgins makes fun – and a bad example – of poor Eliza (Shaina Knox), and claims that with his tutelage, she could pass as a duchess.

As it happens, she aspires to get off the street and work in a shop (but needs to learn to “speak proper”). So when, a few days later, the flower girl turns up for lessons, the plot of “My Fair Lady” is set.

Eliza wants to learn, but is rightly insulted by Higgins’ lack of manners and the way he treats her like a project rather than a person. Smith’s Higgins is more physical than any I’ve seen, which makes him seem even less humane. It seems as if he can’t wait to get to work on this latest project.  

Thank heaven for Ralph Johnson’s Pickering, a fine and classy counterpoint to Higgins’ bull-in-a-china-shop approach to the waif under his tutelage. Johnson does some nice singing as well.

Knox’s initial Cockney accent was somewhat inconsistent on opening night, but settled in, and no one could complain about the many lovely high soprano sounds she provides, especially on “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

Kathy Brombacher, recently retired as founding artistic director of Moonlight Stage Productions, takes the director’s seat for this lovely production, which boasts a fine and familiar supporting cast to the two relative newcomers as Higgins and Eliza.

Susan Boland does an amusing turn as Higgins’ long-suffering housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, and M. Susan Peck is a wonder as Higgins’ mother, whose exasperation with him almost matches Eliza’s.

But the scene-stealer in this group is Randall Hickman’s Doolittle, who blows everybody else off the stage whenever he appears.

If his dancing isn’t quite up to the others, his demeanor makes up for it.

Orlando Alexander contributes some lively if rather busy choreography, and lighting and sound designers Jennifer Edwards and Patrick Hoyny enhance the look of the show. Brian Redfern’s interior set is fine, though some London exteriors are less successful.

Justin Gray does major work as musical director/pianist, joined by a slim band consisting of Mike Masessa on drums, Michael Tagart on strings and Amy Kalal on reeds.

Let’s face it, “My Fair Lady” is up there among the best musicals ever written, and this version will remind you just why that’s so.

The details

“My Fair Lady” plays through April 2, 2017 at Welk Resort Theatre San Diego,

8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido.

Thursday and Saturday at 1 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 pm

Tickets: (888) 802-7469 or welkresorts.com