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Been laying low and trying to rest up since my last play closed, because a) I was sick as a dog and b) I wanted to feel better for my road trip to see 'My Fair Lady' in Chicago! I saw it on Thursday and it was AMAZING!!!

my fair lady program

The Lyric Opera has been doing an annual musical for a few years, and they're always spectacular world class productions, but this one was my absolute favorite I've seen. For one thing, Richard E. Grant is playing Henry Higgins. I nearly fainted when I heard they'd cast him- he's been one of my favorite actors for years, and never in my wildest dreams did I, a penniless midwestern girl, think I would ever get the chance to see him live on stage! And he was perfect in this role, as was Lisa O'Hare as Eliza Doolittle.

The physical production itself was superb- glorious, gorgeous sets and costumes, all bright and airy and Art Deco influenced, to reflect the updated 1930s setting. The sets were mostly white, with the colors of the costumes and lighting used to create new moods in each scene. The opening of the Ascot scene in particular was really stunning, with the lords and ladies in silhouette against a glowing back-lit curtain at first, then the light shifting to reveal them in all their finery, with the ladies in a rainbow of colorful silk dresses. *sigh*

Professor Higgins' study was my favorite set though, a huge moving set two stories high, lined with bookshelves all around on both levels. (P.S. can I live there? ;)) The scene where Eliza appeared on the upper level and stood at the railing in her Grecian-inspired ballgown and tiara as the orchestra reached a crescendo- it had the whole audience oohing and ahhing, it was just like a dream.

The only thing that was disappointing was that the blocking of the Embassy ball scene made it difficult to actually see the dancers, including Eliza and Higgins, and the main action of that scene. Dammit, people, don't make me ship them and then put other characters downstage during their dance scene! (And boy did they look fabulous- I think Lisa O'Hare's ball dress is even more gorgeous than Julie Andrews dress in the original Broadway production, and I can't even believe Richard E. Grant just turned 60- he's still eminently swoon-worthy in a white tie & tails!)

But even with all the beautiful design work, the acting was still the best thing about the show. I never loved My Fair Lady until I saw this production. The score is great obviously, the scenery and costumes are always lovely, but I could never get behind the story, because Higgins is usually such an awful, mean-spirited character that it makes the whole thing cringe-worthy to watch him treat Eliza like dirt, and unbelievable that she would come back to him at the end. But this time, I believed it, because Grant played Higgins as a far more complex character than Rex Harrison and most other actors do. Grant's Higgins didn't enjoy being cruel, but rather was so self-centered and immature that he was oblivious to other people's feelings, rather than deliberately trying to hurt them. Grant seemed to understand that Higgins has as much to learn from Eliza as she does from him, and there was a definite character arc of him coming to the realization that embracing another person with another point of view is an enriching rather than terrible thing, and it was very touching to watch. Plus, Grant has a good deal of charm and humor which he brought to the character in full force, which made Higgins actually likable, and made it plausible that Eliza would fall for him.

Lisa O'Hare, too, brought a lot of humor to Eliza, and the relationship between the two characters took on more of a back-and-forth, almost teasing nature, instead of him simply bullying her. They were both clearly having a lot of fun onstage, which not only made the show more fun to watch, but made the romance between the characters feel believable. Having a friendship built up between them made scenes like the confrontation after the ball absolutely heart-wrenching- both O'Hare and Grant didn't shy away from showing their characters emotional journeys, and I almost cried when Eliza gave back the ring Higgins gave to her. Grant actually let Higgins cry when he went back to his study without Eliza in the final scene, and when he turned on the recording of her voice- the way he flinched when his own voice came on, as if he were ashamed of how terribly he treated her and wished he could apologize- just ugh, it was heartbreaking! And the ending was so good- they included a little extra bit after the 'where the devil are my slippers' line, where Eliza has the servants bring in flowers for Higgins' desk as she sits on the desk, pen and notepad in hand as if she's ready to take dictation, and she and Higgins both smile radiantly at each other as he sits at the desk with her. The idea that the two of them will work together is a fantastic little twist, and I absolutely believe they would be happy and a have a real future together. It's so satisfying to feel that My Fair Lady has a happy ending, at last!

I just wish I had some friends who were into musical theatre who would go with me to see it again! It's the definitive version in my book, and I'm just sad that it's not being recorded in any form so I can keep it forever. Also, I would have liked to go stage-dooring, but alas, I saw it with my mother, and we had a three and a half hour drive home afterward, and she has no idea who Richard E. Grant even is, so she wasn't willing to wait around just for a chance at a chat and an autograph. *sobs* Still, I feel incredibly lucky that I got to see such a magical, perfect show, and it's probably my favorite thing I've seen live on stage, and it'll be one of my favorite memories for as long as I live. ♥
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