Frank Kopyc's performance as Eliza Doolittle's loutish father is one of many treats in Arizona Theater Company's production of My Fair Lady. His rousing "With a Little Bit of Luck" and comical "Get Me to the Church on Time" are both showstoppers, played with such joyous oomph that it's almost possible to overlook, during both numbers, the rowdy calisthenics of the Loverly Quartet whose nimble steps received opening-night ovations.
There are several such highlights to recommend this revival of the 55-year-old musicalization of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, the one about the linguistics professor who transforms a Cockney flower peddler into a lady. ATC's mammoth budget for the famous Lerner-Loewe tuner is evident in Bill Forrester's lush set designs and the opulent costuming of David Kay Mickelsen. Musical director Michael Koerner makes his 10-piece ensemble sound large and lush enough to tackle Frederick Loewe's demanding score, which includes a Hit Parade full of neo-classics like "I Could Have Danced All Night," "On the Street Where You Live" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." And choreographer Patricia Wilcox has made the highest-stepping My Fair Lady this reviewer has ever seen, with creative numbers that incorporate nearly every style this side of breakdancing.
I was so wowed by the keen performances and perfectly paced direction of this Lady -- which has twice extended its successful run at the Herberger -- that I was almost able to overlook the lack of chemistry between its gifted leads. Higgins and Eliza are as well realized as any musical-theater caricatures can be; together, however, these two never convinced me that there was real affection behind her exasperation and his arrogance.
My Fair Lady
Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street.
Continues through February 3. Call 602-256-6899.
On the other hand, Higgins and comrade Colonel Pickering -- played impeccably by Michael Santo, who's perfected the role of the dotty Englishman on several local stages in recent months -- are ideal together. Their campy camaraderie, so necessary in fostering sympathy for ill-mannered Eliza, is pitch perfect.
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If Norman Large's Higgins appears to have barely budged in his opinion of La Doolittle by story's end, at least he makes the part his own, resisting the temptation to impersonate Rex Harrison, whose original performance is indelibly stamped on the role. Unlike Harrison, Large isn't looking for sympathy for Higgins; his impatient side-glances and dramatic dressing-down of Eliza telegraph his contempt for her, even after we know he's fallen in love with her.
Kate Fisher brings an impressive vocal talent and warm enthusiasm to the role of Eliza, but mostly she brings a dead-on impersonation of the young Julie Andrews in the same role. Her countenance, her cautiously regal bearing, and most of all her vocal phrasing add up to a delightful homage to a performance most of us didn't get to see in the late 1960s. If we don't benefit from whatever Fisher might have brought of herself to the role, we can at least relish the opportunity to enjoy a sort of animatronic Andrews tribute.
If I'm nitpicking, it's because I've come to expect near-perfection from director David Ira Goldstein, who has resurrected other musical theater chestnuts, and -- in every case -- made everything old new again. While he's certainly added delightful new bits of business, given new life to at least one of the secondary characters, and found every scrap of dark humor and intelligence in Lerner's book, Goldstein can't make things loverly between his principal players.
I suspect that, if David Ira Goldstein can't do it, no one can. Despite the phony passion between its leads, Goldstein and crew have expertly resuscitated, if not elevated, another classic. This is just about as good as My Fair Lady gets.