Gorgeous “My Fair Lady” at Aronoff is a Must See Celebration of Broadway in Cincinnati 

This is a must see. Not only is the whole cast richly talented, but the production has so many beautiful jaw dropping numbers and heartfelt passion that bring goosebumps-- surprising from a show produced for almost 70 years.

Review by Liz Eichler

Cincinnatians are blessed for many reasons this month. Theatre fans may believe it is because the acclaimed National Tour of Lincoln Center Theatre’s “My Fair Lady” is now at the Aronoff Center through February 20th.

This is a must see. Not only is the whole cast richly talented, but the production has so many beautiful jaw dropping numbers and heartfelt passion that bring goosebumps– surprising from a show produced for almost 70 years. The production is gorgeous. Not a godet or bolt of silk was spared in the costumes as the rich and voluptuous styles of the early 20th century grace the stage.  Catherine Zuber is a costuming goddess, and her take on the Ascot scene, with rich satiny grays and creams, along with lighting by Donald Holder creates both aristocracy and ghosts. Goosebumps. 

“My Fair Lady” by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe was first produced in 1956, starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalian,” although many of us know the iconic 1964 film starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn. It is the story of Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower seller in Edwardian London, who meets two of the world’s best phoneticians (people who study language and pronunciation). She seeks to improve her Cockney accent and the gentlemen bet each other that in six months she could be presented at a royal ball. They succeed, but when the gentlemen ignore Eliza’s role in the success she leaves and they miss her. We also meet Henry’s handsome mother (Leslie Alexander), Eliza’s father and the besotted Freddy, among others.  The ensemble is so rich, they breathe fresh air into this classic. They even have some of the funniest moments.

Director Bartlett Sher highlights certain themes that many lesser productions miss. Equality of the classes and genders, including Suffragettes fighting for the vote, and the “undeserving poor up against the middle class.” Finally, the ending is a bit different that the movie, and had people talking on the way out to the parking garage. 

The headliners are solidly fantastic. Eliza is played by Shereen Ahmed, who masters both Cockney and upper crust accents as well as having a wonderful range and a powerful voice. However, her silence during “You Did It” is heartbreaking, as her teachers Higgins and Pickering decline to see this woman (all women?) as human. Henry Higgins is played masterfully by Laird Mackintosh. It is a role that at times is odious, but I kept reframing him as Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory, perhaps he just doesn’t understand emotion. Kevin Pariseau as the proper Colonel Pickering is an astute and empathetic guide to Eliza. Filling in on opening night William Michals played Alfred P. Doolittle with a melodious deep voice. He delighted the house with “Get Me to the Church on Time” and appeared quite at home in the role. 

The production, again, is gorgeous, even when the ubiquitous fog transforms the harsh realities of Edwardian living into pastels. The forced perspective set pieces (MIchael Yeargan)  make the stage appear even larger, smoothly transitioning from one scene to the next, from interiors to exteriors, with lilac trees bathed in daylight. The icing on the cake is the millinery and the amazing hats throughout. 

My Fair Lady, starring Shereen Ahmed as Eliza, now at the Aronoff as part of Broadway in Cincinnati series.

The sound and vocals are powerful and clear, even with the Cockney accents. The orchestra is bright and crisp with updated arrangements by Robert Russell Bennet and Phil Lang. Music Director and Conductor is John Bell. More goosebumps from “I Could Have Danced all Night.”  

This golden age musical clocks in at 3 hours, so be prepared for a full evening–or matinee–of professional, gorgeous, classic musical theatre. Get your tickets now at https://www.cincinnatiarts.org/. Plan to make a night of it, eat downtown and look at all the orange lights celebrating our city. (Bring your mask, Covid vaccination card and ID, too!)

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