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My Poor Lady
on November 9, 2012
I'm not a Broadway purist in the sense that I automatically equate "original" with "better." When Encores staged "Finian's Rainbow" recently, I felt that the original orchestrations were in dire need of updating. "The Hot Mikado" is a hoot, and I had no issue when Jonathan Tunick fine-tuned "A Chorus Line" a few years back. But why fiddle with perfection? Robert Russell Bennet and Philip J. Lang were two of the giants of Broadway arranging and orchestration, and their work on "My Fair Lady" was unparalleled. Whoever decided that this show's score needed rethinking was, frankly, an idiot. (If you see them within 15 miles of the "Gypsy" overture, shoot to kill.) Perhaps it all worked better live, but listening to this recording -- and how could one do so more than once? -- is an exasperating, pointless process.
First of all, Martine McCutcheon, the leading lady (Olivier Award notwithstanding) is simply not up to singing the role. At all. Again, the performance may have worked splendidly in the theater, given her Cockney authenticity; listening at home, however, one is tempted to skip to the next track after a few whispered, wan notes. Without a solid, soaring "fair lady," what on Earth is the point? Jonathan Pryce should have worked as Higgins (he's fundamentally "right" for the role), but he's chosen largely to sing the score, as opposed to sing/talk it. This approach to the material is oddly de-neutering. A Higgins who fails to rant and bellow (i.e. one who calmly sings), is no Higgins at all. So here you have a "My Fair Lady" grossly undermined by the actors playing the leading roles. Which doesn't leave much, if anything, left. Dennis Waterman sounds like a terrific Doolittle, but when does one gravitate to this show for the Doolittle? The rest of the cast is serviceable, but can't justify one's serious time or attention.
This revival was the brainchild of producer Cameron Mackintosh, who has obvious affection for the show. But the fact that one can rethink a show doesn't mean that one should. He's managed to transform "My Fair Lady" from something magical into something mundane.