My Fair Lady Review: A Safe, Unremarkable Take on a Beloved Broadway Classic


Three years after the beginning of the pandemic, it is still quite a feat to experience the buzz of a full house at the theater. Opening at the Citizens Bank Opera House on April 19, the excitement at the North American Tour of Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of “My Fair Lady” was a triumphant sight for optimistic Boston theater-goers, but unfortunately lacked the powerful performance to back it up.

This revival of “My Fair Lady,” enriched with Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s fantastic score and Bartlett Sher’s direction, offered Boston’s sleepy audiences a slight adaptation to the Broadway classic. Sher’s choice to change the tone of the musical’s final moment landed beautifully with those familiar and aggravated by the 1964 Audrey Hepburn film adaptation. Performances by Madeline Powell (Eliza Doolittle) and Jonathan Grunert (Professor Henry Higgins) were steeped in nostalgia for classic Broadway that felt familiar, if a little overdone. But in supporting roles and design, the revival hit its stride.

Dominated by heavy Cockney accents, Powell and the ensemble stumbled through the first act, losing some of the quick exposition needed to properly situate Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering (played by John Adkison). Powell, Grunert, and Adkison eventually recovered, and their energetic performance of the infamous “The Rain in Spain” marked a vital turning point in the embodiment and ownership of the trio’s characters. Only in a few of the musical’s most famous moments, namely “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Get Me to the Church On Time,” did the performance regain its momentum and spirit.

Powell and Grunert plateaued through most of the second act, limited in both power and intrigue. In their over-rehearsed domination of the stage, the audience lost the developing and incredibly significant friendship between Eliza and Colonel Pickering and the absolute brilliance of Madeline Brennan’s Mrs. Pearce. The second act was, in turn, saved by the explosion of energy and bravado that accompanied Alfred P. Doolittle’s (played by Michael Hegerty) “Get Me to the Church On Time.” Hegerty’s phenomenal performance and Catherine Zuber’s exuberant costume design revived a quiet audience and fatigued stage, an unforeseen highlight of the entire revival. In addition to Hegerty’s redemptive high spirits, Becky Saunders’s Mrs. Higgins stood out as perfectly snarky and hilariously apt. The second act’s gravity and excitement seemed to revolve around these spectacles, leading one to ask through the rest of the performance, Where did this energy go?


The show’s final moment, altered from its film adaptation by Sher, proved to be much less infuriating than Eliza’s submissive return to the Professor, if a little anticlimactic. Grunert remained unfortunately static, but Powell was more self-assured, stepping into the show’s final scenes with renewed vigor.

In its tour, “My Fair Lady” struggled only slightly to uphold its classic design elements. The modified traveling scenic design fell short of its nuanced potential, redeemed only by lighting designer Donald Holder’s careful attention to detail. In a story reliant on spaces delineated by wealth and class, it is Holder’s focus on Professor Higgins’ home and Covent Garden that made all the difference. Zuber’s costume design retains the very same excellence and idiosyncrasies as her work in the much-awarded “Moulin Rouge.”

But for all its national acclaim, the revival of “My Fair Lady” in Boston presents a very interesting product of the city. The Broadway classic, beloved as it is, is full of terribly outdated assumptions and storylines, perfect for an audience of Boston Brahmins, but rather jarring to unfamiliar theater-goers. It is a supposedly “safe” choice, one that fills post-Covid seats with its recognizable program and songbook, but a choice that feels reactionary and conservative in a moment where innovation or significant reinvention is possible. Theater, especially in Boston, will undoubtedly continue to struggle, but the presence of “My Fair Lady” in the city’s art scene places it at odds with institutions like the Metropolitan Opera, which has wholeheartedly invested in new and risky contemporary work. The show’s middling reception is telling, and offers Bostonians a nice night out at the theater rather than a memorable performance.

—Staff writer Hannah T. Chew can be reached at