Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The musical is one of the jewels of Broadway with its literate book by Alan Jay Lerner, drawn largely from the text of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and Lerner (lyrics) and Frederick Loewe's (music) score of patter songs, bumptious music hall numbers, and soaring melodies. What Souza has done is to present Eliza Doolittle (Brittany Campbell) as outspoken and not easily intimidated, Henry Higgins (Danny Bernardy, imperious but prone to hilarious tantrums) more youthful than is usually seen, and a simmering sense of attraction between the two of themwhich doesn't get in the way of the combative relationship between teacher and student. Todd Scofield is a fine Colonel Pickering, smoothing the moments of tension.
Souza and his designers have moved the time from Shaw's 1912 to 1921, when women over 30 were finally able to vote in England (the age didn't decrease to 21 for women until 1928) and were gaining power and prominence in society. This Eliza may dream of comfort and eating chocolates, but she has a spine of steel and knows how things work, as well as a rapturous soprano voice. She's picked up a few useful skills from the way her father, Alfred P. Doolittle (Chris Genebach, delightfully sly and the center of attention whenever he appears), manipulates the system. The other standouts are Benjamin Lurye as a rather nerdy, if ardent, Freddy Eynsford-Hill and Valerie Leonard as both Higgins' witty mother and his long-suffering housekeeper.
Where James Fouchard's scenic design is minimal and more expressionistic than realistic (a large chart of phonetic symbols dominates the wall of Higgins' study), Pei Lee's costume design is specific and vivid. The ladies attending the races at Ascot wear intense colors and eye-popping prints, far from the black-and-white palette familiar from Cecil Beaton's Broadway and movie designs, and this Eliza demonstrates her liberation from Higgins by wearing pants. Max Doolittle's lighting design achieves a freeze-frame effect at important moments through the use of multiple follow spots.
Olney Theatre Center