Music by Frederick Loewe
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Price Range 12.50 - 40 Pounds
London’s West End, like New York’s Broadway, can deliver the most marvelous musical moments. This revival of one of the nearest to perfection examples of the modern musical theater genre is filled with just such moments and, while it misses a mark here and there, it adds up to one enchanting evening of charm, wit, melody, comedy and romance featuring one of the truly great scores of all time. The opportunity to see it a stone’s throw from the Covent Garden location where the famous opening scene takes place is no small additional benefit.
Storyline: The musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion adds personal romance to the original’s love affair with the English Language as a dialectician who believes that the way a person speaks "absolutely classifies him" takes on the challenge of teaching a flower girl from Covent Garden to speak well enough to be accepted as a princess at a court function. He (and she) succeeds. But in the process, he "grows accustomed to her face" and wants her in his world permanently despite his protestations that he would "never let a woman in my life."
Alan Jay Lerner’s adaptation of Shaw, and his wonderfully literate lyrics, are set to the gorgeous strains of Frederick Lowe’s music. "Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?" "I Could Have Danced All Night," "On The Street Where You Live" and ""I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face" are some of the premiere romance songs to emerge from the golden age of the American musical. Lerner and Lowe originally wrote this for Broadway where it was a gigantic hit in the 1950’s. It transferred to London and repeated its success. The sub-plot involving the flower girl’s father provided the opportunity for such classic music-hall type production numbers as "Get Me to the Church on Time" and "With A Little Bit of Luck" while the concentration on diction, enunciation, pronunciation and all things dialectic gave them the chance to produce some of the finest patter songs since Gilbert and Sullivan with "Why Can’t the English (teach their children how to speak)?" "I’m An Ordinary man" and "A Hymn to Him" which poses the time honored question "Why can’t a woman be more like a man?" Add to all this, the terrific release of exuberant joy "The Rain in Spain" and you have a score with more beauty, wit, depth and charm than a dozen more mundane musicals.
In this revival of the 45 year old classic, director Trevor Nunn has taken more liberties than necessary, but the strength of the material survives most of the tinkering. The only design element that seems to misfire is the choreography of Matthew Bourne who turns some of "With A Little Bit of Luck" into a scene from Stomp and has the aristocrats at Ascot gavotte-ing as if they were the horses. But Nunn uses all of the technical advances in stagecraft of the last half century without seeming to show off simply because lights can be refocused remotely, projections can be made to move and massive set pieces can fly or slide more or less silently. His designer, Anthony Ward produces stylized stage pictures that are all together appropriate not only for the play but for the location – one of London’s largest as well as oldest theaters. This sense of heft applies to all elements but never seems to exist for its own sake. Paul Groothuis’ subtle sound reinforcement carries every voice to every seat without making them seem to come out of speakers instead of out of the actors mouths.
The actors in question are a fine lot. Alex Jennings is the misogynistic elocutionist who softens just a bit internally while keeping up a solid front. While he sings the patter songs well and dances the few steps required of him acceptably, it is his acting that carries the evening. He makes you believe that he believes the dated philosophy he spouts. Katie Knight-Adams had the role of the flower girl at the performance we attended and she, too, makes a believer out of the audience although it is an easier part to put over. Peter Prentice makes a marvelous lovesick young man while both Caroline Blakiston and Dilys Laye make the most of the two secondary women’s roles. Only Dennis Waterman as the flower girl’s father seems to get off to a very slow start as if he is tired of playing the role eight times a week. But when he gets to his favorite scene where he espouses "the most original philosophy in the British Isles" he is clearly having a wonderful time and he sells his numbers from then on. The audience, too, is having a wonderful time.
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Music by Frederick Loewe. Adapted from Bernard Shaw’s play and Gabriel Pascal’s motion picture Pygmalion. Directed by Trevor Nunn. Choreography by Matthew Bourne. Musical Supervisor David White. Musical Director Stephen Brooker. Dance Arranger Chris Walker. Design: Anthony Ward (set and costumes) David Hersey (lights) Paul Groothuis (sound). Cast: Alex Jennings, Joanna Riding or Katie Knight-Adams, Dennis Waterman, Malcolm Sinclair, Peter Prentice, Dilys Layle, Caroline Blakiston.
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