By Karen Isaacs
A concert version of “My Fair Lady” was the New Haven Symphony’s Pops concert this past weekend in Hamden and Shelton.
It’s a first for the Symphony.
The results were quite good, but there is room for improvement. I hope the misses can be taken care before next October: The Pops will present a concert version of “Guys and Dolls.”
The positives: It was well-sung and well played. The musical direction was by the Pops conductor Chelsea Tipton and the staging, etc by Wendy Morgan-Hunter.
As would be expected, the orchestra sounded great and Tipton set the appropriate tempi.
The singing was also excellent. Gary Harger was Professor Higgins; he not only did NOT imitate Rex Harrison but he sang more of the role; Frederick Loewe actually had written music for many of the songs that Harrison performed as singspiel (talking/singing). It was nice to hear the music. He also gave us a well-rounded characterization of Higgins. George McTyre played both Colonel Pickering and Alfred Doolittle and did well in both parts. His Pickering perhaps could have been more dithering but his Doolittle was great; and he kept a somewhat Cockney accent.
Freddy Eynsfordd-Hill was sung by Charlie Widmer who tenor voice scored with his one big number, “On the Street Where You Lived.”
Lisa Williamson was Eliza. She had a soaring soprano and did a fine job with the acting part of the role.
The last member of the cast was Michael Constantino who did the narration and sang some harmony and smaller bits. His narration was enthusiastic.
Now to some of the things that need improving. The first was the narration – not Constantino who was good, but the actual script. While none of it was wrong at times it left out too much and emphasized things that weren’t important.
The orchestra was, as I said, excellent but it seemed that it was smaller than usual.
Overall Morgan-Hunter’s direction was fine; it was limited because the performers were sitting between their numbers. My one objection was how she staged the ending. George Bernard Shaw on whose play “My Fair Lady” is based, was adamant that this was not a romance or a happy ending. Lerner and Loewe fudged it a bit, having the curtain come down with Eliza returning to Higgins. In fact the stage directions say that Higgins is slouched in a chair with his hat over his eyes and he stays that way. When he realizes that Eliza has returned, he says, “Eliza, where the devil are my slippers.” Curtain. She has Higgins and Eliza holding hands and looking in each other’s eyes.
Some other quibbles. I missed a chorus — Loewe had written some lovely counter melodies for Mrs. Pearce (the housekeeper) and the maids to sing. They add much to the score as well as the chorus in the Ascot Gavotte.
Charlie Widmer as Freddy sang the part well, but his acting was lacking. Perhaps a singer with more musical experience as opposed to more classical music would have been able to round out the character.
But probably my biggest complaint was with Lisa Williamson as Eliza. She sang beautifully thought at times with too much vibrato, and did well enough in the acting. But to sing “Just You Wait” –which comes while Eliza is still speaking with a Cockney accent and then not to use it in the song – is just plain wrong.
Kudos to the Symphony for this first show. I look forward to more of them.