Sonoma Arts Live concludes their “toast to the classics” with a production of My Fair Lady, running now through July 28.
Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion was a smash hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1956, but modern sensibilities have taken a toll on the tale of a Cockney flower girl molded into a princess by a demanding man.
Eliza Doolittle (Sarah Wintermeyer) dreams of being a lady in a flower shop, and after a run-in with linguistics Professor Henry Higgins (Larry Williams), she shows up on his doorstep for elocution lessons. Higgins makes a bet with visiting linguist Colonel Pickering (Chad Yarish) that by training Eliza to speak properly, he can pass her off as a lady. Ah, but then what?
Attitudes and insults that were played for comedy half a century ago (Higgins refers to Eliza as “a squashed cabbage leaf,” a “draggletailed guttersnipe” and a “presumptuous insect” among other things) appear today as the rantings of a misanthropic misogynist. Higgins is not a nice guy.
Eliza comes across a bit better these days, though the feisty, independent woman who escapes the clutches of her abusive father Alfred (Tim Setzer) and demands the right to be who she wants to be still comes up against an ending that, while modified, remains problematic.
That’s no fault of the terrific cast. Eliza is a role Wintermeyer seems born to play; her performance is exemplary. “I Could Have Danced All Night” was a musical highlight. Williams’ Higgins leans appropriately to the chauvinistic side with just a glimpse of who he might become with “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Chad Yarish is fun as the somewhat-chivalrous Pickering, and all three are a delight in “The Rain in Spain.” They’re supported by a very strong ensemble.
It’s a huge show (in many ways) and a very ambitious undertaking for this company. Director Michael Ross, scenic designer Rahman Dalrymple and choreographer Staci Arriaga did a pretty good job in adapting to the relatively small space. Utilizing both the stage and the auditorium floor as performance areas, parts occasionally do get lost, depending on where you are seated. And you’ll never see music director James Raasch and the fine seven-piece orchestra, as they are tucked backstage.
Script issues aside, in style and execution this Lady is more than fair.
Rating (out of 5):★★★★
‘My Fair Lady’ runs through July 28 at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $25–$40. 866.710.8942. sonomaartslive.org.