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Gerald Carpenter: Granada Gets ‘My Fair Lady in Concert’ to the Theater On Time

The Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts and the Santa Barbara Symphony have joined forces to bring the Kennedy Center’s premiere production of Lerner and Loewe’s classic (and very classy) musical My Fair Lady (in Concert) to The Granada Theatre at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The show is directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, and the unforgettable tunes will be brought to life by the Santa Barbara Symphony, conducted by Kennedy Center music director James Moore.

The cast is a veritable wish list, featuring Jonathan Pryce as the imperious linguist, Professor Henry Higgins; Laura Michelle Kelly as the ambitious Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle; Gregory Jbara as Eliza’s crafty, amoral father, Alfred P. Doolittle; Cloris Leachman as Higgins’ long-suffering mother, Mrs. Higgins; Michael York as the adorable old India hand, Colonel Pickering; Florence Lacey as Higgins’ skeptical housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce; and Max von Essen as the ultimate well-born young nincompoop, Freddy Eynsford-Hill.

Jonathan Pryce becomes Professor Henry Higgins on Sunday at The Granada Theatre.
Jonathan Pryce becomes Professor Henry Higgins on Sunday at The Granada Theatre.

The world premiere of My Fair Lady in Concert took place starring this same cast last Ma, for one performance, in the Kennedy Center. Including the intermission, the show runs for two and a half hours, so it is considerably more than an “original cast” album performed live; it is a performance of most of the musical play, sans a good deal of the usual production apparatus.

My Fair Lady, which took Broadway by storm in 1956, was, of course, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, which first took the stage in 1913. Oddly, considering the centrality of spoken English to the whole dynamic of the play, the first performance, in Vienna, was in German. The play soon opened in England, and became one of Shaw’s enduring hits.

The boast of Professor Higgins that he could teach a flower girl to speak so well he could pass her off as a duchess, is overheard by the flower girl, who shows up on Higgins’ doorstep the next day, ready for her first lesson. The lack of sentimentality, so often a handicap to a drama’s success, survives in the musical. It is one of the things that makes it unique. Shaw was one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English-language theater, and the strength of My Fair Lady is that Lerner and Loewe did not just use the play as an armature, or basis, for their work, but were so immerse in the spirit of the original that they actually seem to be channeling Shaw in the songs they wrote. Compare the theatrical integrity of My Fair Lady to their next success, Camelot, which has marvelous songs but plays like a high school pageant (T.H. White’s novel, The Once and Future King, on which Camelot is based, is a great and unique work, but utterly unsuited to dramatic adaptation).

And, what a wonder Jonathan Pryce is! If he were doing a one-actor reading of the play, it would still be worth any sum to see it. How many actors can have so brilliantly taken on the skin of such diverse types as Juan Perón, Henry Higgins and Lytton Strachey, and been showered with critical acclaim in each role? He is as unique as My Fair Lady itself.

Tickets to My Fair Lady in Concert range from $43 to $93 and are are available from The Granada Theatre Box Office at 805.899.2222.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are his own.

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