Emma Polen | Editor in Chief
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust invites patrons to the classic musical “My Fair Lady,” showing this week through Sunday at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, part of the 2023-2024 PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series.
The work has undergone countless adaptations over the years. Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 “My Fair Lady” musical is based on a play by George Bernard Shaw called “Pygmalion,” itself based on the Greek legend of Pygmalion and Galatea. Audrey Hepburn starred in a 1964 film adaptation of the musical, and the classic model of “makeover” for the main character in “My Fair Lady” has maintained its significance in pop culture today.
“My Fair Lady” asks the viewer: Is it worth changing who we are to have the life we’ve dreamed of?
The themes of social identity, female identity and sexuality all remain relevant in this traditional adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s musical.
The story surrounds Eliza Doolittle, a stubborn Londoner with a Cockney accent. Due to her lack of proper noble English, professor of linguistics Henry Higgins places a bet with his friend, Colonel Pickering, that he can fool everyone in high society into believing Eliza is a princess — not some ordinary flower girl off the streets of 1912 London.
Eliza’s situation is tough from the start, portrayed beautifully by Anette Barrios-Torres, a Cuban-American actress who is making her national tour debut with this musical. “My Fair Lady” may be the only musical where not understanding what the main character is saying is acceptable, as Eliza navigates being a working woman to faking the accent of a noblewoman.
However, as Eliza’s accent improves in her lessons with professor Higgins, Barrios-Torres’ fake-on-fake accent remains true to the character. The actress does not lose the accent when she sings, and some of her early proper English reveals a stubborn strain of Cockney, neither of which are Barrios Torres’ primary accent (unless they’re teaching Cockney in southern Florida).
Eliza’s situation is made no better by her pining father Alfred P. Doolittle, played by Michael Hegarty, whose boisterous, drunk foolery makes him a bit short on cash himself, let alone for his family.
There were less-admirable performances with various accents, including the Hungarian professor of language Zoltan Karpathy (Christopher Isolano) who claims to have been Higgins’ previous star pupil. The audience could not understand what he was saying, made evident by the noticeable lower volume of laughter during his comedic lines.
Nonetheless, for an opening night audience (on a Tuesday, no less), the audience’s reactions to the main character’s quips and unknowingly self-deprecating remarks were notably loud.
While Barrios-Torres had to act as Eliza as she blossoms from a commoner flower girl into a noblewoman, the ensemble cast members had to perform the roles of both regal gentry and energetic commoner townspeople throughout the show, which they did incredibly well.
During a scene at the races where horses race across the audience’s seats through an intelligent use of speakers, the 17 cast members portrayed regality well, remaining unmoving and almost bored at the exciting race happening in front of them. The energy is entirely the opposite during “Get Me to the Church on Time,” documenting Alfred Doolittle’s last night as a free man before marriage, with men dressed up in a wedding gown and burlesque leotards doing splits next to women in matching, flowing dresses swinging inside a bar.
27A Wimpole Street, Higgins’ home where Eliza receives most of her language learning lessons, rolled forward and backward with two stories of stage space and constituted the largest set piece of the show.
While the majority of the crew for the show comes from local theater help in Pittsburgh, head electrician Kyle Musson travels with the tour to each location along with 13 other crew members.
Musson, originally from Florida, spoke of his experience in Pittsburgh so far.
“The city’s been really nice,” he said. Aside from adequately chilling January weather, he thanked the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts crew for being great to work with.
Some of the cast and crew will be touring PNC Park while they’re stopped in Pittsburgh. The tour group has also gotten to try Condado Tacos and Primanti Bro’s, with plans to stop at more spots before they head out.
“One thing touring crew are very good at is finding the local places to go and eat and get some,” Musson said.
At the end of the week, the crew will pack up their equipment, set pieces and the cast, and head on to Auburn, Ala.
While an audience member might marvel at the size and scope of the set pieces used in “My Fair Lady,” they might be even more surprised to learn that at the end of the week, all of these structures, including Higgins’ study which takes up the entire stage, will fit nicely into the back of a semi-truck.
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust staff contributed as well, from guest services to infrastructural operations.
Duquesne students receive a discount at ticket sales with the promotional code 2324DUQ, or by heading to the university student tickets page of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website (www.TrustArts.com).