Review: “My Fair Lady” in Sonoma

Sonoma Arts Live concludes their “toast to the classics” with a production of My Fair Lady, running now through July 28.

Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion was a smash hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1956 but modern sensibilities have taken a toll on the tale of a Cockney flower girl molded into a princess by a demanding man.  

Eliza Doolittle (Sarah Wintermeyer) has dreams of being a lady in a flower shop, and after a run-in with linguistics Professor Henry Higgins (Larry Williams) shows up on his doorstep for elocution lessons. Higgins makes a bet with visiting linguist Colonel Pickering (Chad Yarish) that by training Eliza to speak properly, he can pass her off as a lady. Ah, but then what?

Sarah Wintermeyer

Attitudes and insults that were played for comedy a half a century ago (Higgins refers to Eliza as “a squashed cabbage leaf”, a “draggletailed guttersnipe”, and a “presumptuous insect” among other things) come off today as the rantings of a misanthropic misogynist. Higgins is not a nice guy.

Eliza comes off a bit better these days, though the feisty, independent woman who escapes the clutches of her abusive father Alfred (Tim Setzer) and demands the right to be who she wants to be still comes up against an ending that, while modified, is still problematic.

That’s no fault of the cast, who are terrific. Eliza is a role that Wintermeyer would seem to have been born to play, and her performance is exemplary. “I Could Have Danced All Night” was a musical highlight. Williams’ Higgins leans appropriately to the chauvinistic side with just a glimpse of who he might become with “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Chad Yarish is fun as the somewhat chivalrous Pickering, and all three are a delight in “The Rain in Spain”. They’re supported by a very strong ensemble. 

It’s a huge show (in many ways) and a very ambitious undertaking for this company. Director Michael Ross, scenic designer Rahman Dalrymple and choreographer Staci Arriaga have done a pretty good job in adapting to the relatively small space. Utilizing both the stage and the auditorium floor as performance areas, things occasionally do get lost depending on where you are seated and you’ll never see Music Director F. James Raasch and the fine seven-piece orchestra as they are tucked backstage.

Script issues aside, in style and execution this Lady is much more than fair.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★

‘My Fair Lady’ runs through July 28 at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $25–$40. 866.710.8942. sonomaartslive.org.

Photos by Eric Chazankin

This review originally ran in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian

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